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Patriotic Article

By Army Sgt. Scott Akanewich

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City Comes Together To Honor Military
(May 27, 2011)

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A junior Air Force color guard marches along the route during the 52nd Annual Torrance Armed Forces Day Parade in Torrance, Calif., May 21, 2011.
A junior Air Force color guard marches along the route during the 52nd Annual Torrance Armed Forces Day Parade in Torrance, Calif., May 21, 2011.
  TORRANCE, Calif. (5/21/2011) – For over 50 years, the bedrock community of Torrance, located south of Los Angeles, has hosted the Annual Torrance Armed Forces Day Parade. The event, which began in 11200, is the longest-running military parade sponsored by any city in the U.S. It is also one of a select group sanctioned by the Department of Defense.

Each year, a different branch of the military takes the lead role in the parade and this year was the Army's turn to be in the spotlight as the highlighted service. They were joined by the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

Streets usually busy with traffic were on this day traversed by vehicles of a different kind. Everything from an M1A1 Abrams tank to military humvees and just about every other type of tactical vehicle rumbled along the
parade route, to the cheering, smiling, flag-waving delight of the thousands who lined the sidewalks to get a glimpse of glory.
The parade took place on a sunny Southern California Saturday afternoon. However, there were interactive displays set up in the parking lot of the Del Amo shopping mall the entire weekend, where children and adults alike could meet-and-greet these real American heroes from the different service branches of the Armed Forces.

Four-year-old Ethan Balonkita and brother Aiden, 3, had all they could handle climbing in and about an M1A1 battle tank, on hand courtesy of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment out of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The toddlers bounded around the interior of the mammoth tracked vehicle with the help of the crew, one of which was Sgt. Adam Donaldson of the 2nd Squadron of the 11th ACR.

“The kids are always most interested in the weapons,” said Donaldson, as Ethan lined up imaginary targets while looking through the crosshairs of both the .50-caliber and M240 machine guns mounted atop the steel deathdealer. “People are always amazed at how cramped the quarters are inside the tank.”

For Donaldson and his brothers-in-arms, it was a pleasure just to interact with the public, in particular the youngsters who normally look up to them as larger-than-life characters, he said.

“We're just ordinary people just like them,” he said. “There are no walls or barriers between us – we're just like their next-door neighbors.”

After his boys were finished going over the tank with a fine-toothed comb, their father, Samuel, was as thrilled as his sons were from the experience, he said.

“It's really cool for them to be able to come out here and get hands-on with things they normally only see in movies or on television,” he said. “They already love the military and have an opportunity here to get to learn more about what these service members from the different branches actually do.”

This year's grand marshal was Gen. Robert W. Cone, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, commanding general. This was Cone's fourth appearance at the event, having previously been the commander of the NTC at Fort Irwin, where many of the troopers participating each year are stationed.

Cone pointed out the synergy of the services on display and stressed the importance of the average citizen realizing how the different branches work together.

“This is truly an incredible event because it shows everyone the joint capabilities we have,” said Cone. “This way, the American people understand we're a combined force and can see everything we bring to the fight and that together with their tremendous support, we can't be beat.”

One of the displays featured role-players from the 82nd Airborne Living History Association, fully decked out in vintage uniforms and equipment.

According to Jim Palmer, a “captain” with the group, this is their way of bridging the past with the present.

“A lot of the younger generations these days don't realize everything these guys who fought in World War II did, about how they laid it all on the line for people overseas they didn't even know,” said Palmer, flanked by “Private” Nicholas Schneier and another pretend paratrooper, Marco Vivanti, all proudly representing the “All-Americans” of the 82nd in full living color. “We're here to tell them the stories of these men.”

Finally and perhaps the most poignant aspect of the day's festivities centered around Master Sgt. (Ret.) Dyana St. John, who spent 15 years in the Air Force before being forced to leave the service due to Multiple Sclerosis, which led to degenerative disk disease in her back, confining her to a wheelchair after having lost all motor function in her right leg.

St. John carried a folded U.S. flag in her lap as she rolled around, marveling at the different displays, particularly in the medical tent, because of her military experience as a member of a medical evacuation crew.

“My father was a Marine who was killed in Korea and he was buried overseas, so I never got an official burial flag,” said St. John, as tears welled up in her eyes. “I finally requested a flag from the Veterans Administration, but I still wanted it to be folded officially and honorably by some of his fellow Marines.”

St. John's son is currently a Marine infantryman, so she carries around with her a dog tag of his, along with one of her own and of course, one from her late father.

“This means the world to me,” she said, choked-up with emotion as thoughts of what had just taken place filled her mind. “I can finally bring closure now.”

St. John spoke of the event in cathartic, reverent tones.

“I needed to be here,” she said. “I needed to see what the other branches do and it doesn't get any better than this. The public needs to know how everyone works together.”

Article and photo by Army Sgt. Scott Akanewich
302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Copyright 2011

Provided through DVIDS

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