RENO — Thousands of people converged on downtown Reno Friday for the city’s largest Veterans Day parade in history.
Applause and flag waving greeted the more than 3,000 veterans and junior ROTC members from local area high schools who participated in the parade.
For many veterans on hand, the parade was an opportunity to gather with fellow military brethren and show support to one another.
John Copeland, president of the local American Federation of Government Employees chapter and an Army vet, said he was attending his first Veterans Day parade in Reno in order to advocate for better medical and health care support for needy veterans.
Larry Jones, an Air Force veteran, stood nearby holding a sign that read, “Love Freedom? Thank a vet.”
Indeed, that’s what the parade was all about: showing support for America’s soldiers, past and present.
Students from Sierra Nevada Job Corps (SNJC), a vocational training school for disadvantaged youth, were excited to be at the parade.
“The kids wanted to be a part of it,” said Cassie Donahoe, student government advisor.
Dan Metzger, a career Army vet and assistant safety officer at SNJC, put the day in perspective for generations young and old.
“We need to show people that freedom isn’t free,” he said.
Derek Shawk, a Marine Corps vet and member of the Legacy Veterans motorcycle club, was attending his first parade in Reno after moving to the area just five months ago.
“I think it’s awesome how the state treats vets,” he said. “It makes you feel good that you get recognized.”
During the Vietnam War era, many veterans did not get the recognition they deserved. They returned home unceremoniously, often ridiculed by their fellow Americans for their involvement in the unpopular conflict.
But this stain on the American legacy has, in large part, been cleaned up, and veterans returning stateside these days from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face a better homecoming.
“You can hate the war,” Shawk said, “but don’t hate the warrior.”
Several vets marched with a group from Paws 4 Love, a local nonprofit that pairs vets with friendly canines who make uplifting visits to hospitals, schools and libraries in the region.
Among them was Sam Macaluso, a member of the Nevada Air National Guard, whose dog, a rescued pointer named Guido, bounded excitedly along the parade route.
Macaluso said he was set to retire from the military in a matter of weeks.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’ll be a true veteran now.”
Alex Katsilometes, a Vietnam-era veteran, summed up the day when he said, “I keep telling my friends to come down … it’s a great experience.”