Thank you, soldiers

A 1923 fire engine that lives at the Chestnut Fire Station rides down Tenth Street in the Memorial Day parade Monday.

Thousands of locals and visitors crowded 10th Street for Gilroy’s Memorial Day parade Monday, to bask in the sun, enjoy unique parade floats and honor those who have served in the military. Little girls squealed at the passing horses, while little boys gasped at the classic cars driving by. Children of all ages scurried into the street for the free candy parade entrants threw, while seniors tapped their feet to the marching band that played peppy, patriotic tunes. The festivities were lively and relaxed, just as a holiday should be. But unlike the many barbecues and camping trips that Americans book over Memorial Day weekend, Gilroy’s festivities seemed to remember that the true meaning of the holiday is all about honoring Americans who have given their lives to serve in the military. “This is all about remembering all the men and women who have served our country,” Gilroy resident Glenn Griffith said. Griffith, whose son is in the Navy and whose father fought in World War II, has made a point to attend the parade for the last 12 years. This year, he brought his daughter and 2-year-old grandson who are visiting from Seattle. His grandson sucked on a lollipop and admired a coordinated fly-over by a pack of jets shooting through the sky that kicked off the parade around 11 a.m. A 4-year-old girl named Anabella Iglesias jumped up and down when a group of dancing show horses from the Mexican riding group Charros passed by her. Dressed in a floral dress and sparkly flats, she held a pink pail for the candy she amassed during the parade. When asked about her favorite part of the parade, Anabella smiled. “Horsies!” she said. Anabella’s mother Monique Iglesias, 24, said this was the family’s first time at the Memorial Day parade. “My cousin is in the Marines, and I’m definitely thinking of him today. This is such a good day to appreciate soldiers, especially those with families here,” Iglesias said. Eighty-year-old Cindy Wilkinson of Morgan Hill enjoyed the parade for the first time Monday. She sat on a folding chair smiling, watching children laugh and wave miniature American flags around. “Soldiers should not be forgotten, past and present,” said Wilkinson, whose son served in the Vietnam War. “I think it’s wonderful that we honor the military today.” The parade drew in nearly 60 different community floats, such as Relay for Life, Gilroy Girl Scouts, Watsonville Community Band, the Gilroy Police Department’s armored “BearCat,” vehicle, a troop of historical tractors from Watsonville and an entourage for boxing champ Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. Athenna Crosby, Miss National American California, sat on the back of a truck and blew a kiss to a group of about six energetic young boys as she passed. Eight-year-old Carlos Rivear blushed and beamed while his friends punched him in the arm and hooted. “No, she kissed me, she likes me better,” 6-year-old Uriel Valasquez said. The boys, red-faced and star struck, said that “seeing the queen” was the highlight of their day. The morning kicked off with more than 200 people gathering at Gavilan Hills Memorial Park to honor American soldiers who have died in combat. White-haired men in regalia placed their hands over their hearts when Gilroy Police Detective Stan Devlin played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. The names of every Gilroy citizen who died while serving at war were read out loud and remembered, dating back to casualties of World War I and ending with the war in Afghanistan. Patty Gutierrez, whose husband Army Staff Sgt. David Gutierrez of Gilroy was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Christmas Day 2009, visited with friends and family after the ceremony. “Every day is Memorial Day for us, but this day brings out more emotions than a usual day,” Gutierrez said. Dressed in a pink camouflage shirt with David’s photo on the front, Gutierrez said her family planned to visit her husband’s grave for some private time. Gutierrez’s 6-year-old son, Gabriel, the youngest of three boys, is beginning to understand what happened to his father, Gutierrez said. “This day is to honor our soldiers like Dad,” Gabriel said. When asked if he was proud of his father, Gabriel smiled and bobbed his head up and down before running off with his brothers to get more cookies. Gutierrez said her boys are happy, and she is plugging along. “I just ask that people appreciate what our military does. It shouldn’t matter what religion you are or what political party you’re in, soldiers are soldiers and they still deserve honor,” she said. Cindy Wilber, 70, has been taking her 11-year-old grandson to the ceremony since he was a baby. Wilber’s father served in World War II, and her uncle and brother also served in the military, and her nephew currently serves. “We’re trying to embed something in his mind,” Wilber said of her grandson. “By taking him year after year, we hope he’ll learn how important it is to honor those whose lives are taken to serve our country.”

Leave your comments