City Comes Together To Honor Military
(May 27, 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,
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
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
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
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.”
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
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
“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
Article and photo by Army Sgt. Scott Akanewich
302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
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