SALINAS VALLEY — Monterey County Veterans Day Parade went through a shift for its 10th anniversary this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, changing to an online celebration of veterans with studio segments, interviews and archive footage of past parades, since health guidelines didn’t allow for the decade-long tradition of a parade through Salinas streets.
“On this Veterans Day, let us always remember those troops that have served and passed on and are no longer with us,” said Chaplain Jack Smailes during the Nov. 11 virtual ceremony. “Remember those troops that are now serving in different countries throughout the world, let them always be safe and return safely.”
“This year obviously is a lot different,” added local veteran Tony Virrueta, one of the organizers for the yearly county celebration and a member of Soledad American Legion Post 32. “We couldn’t have a Veterans Day parade, but we didn’t want to cancel anything. This is a day that we cannot look away from.”
Virrueta noted how countywide, residents have a connection to the military through former Fort Ord, Fort Hunter Liggett, DLI and Naval Postgraduate School.
“This area is just inundated with veterans and those still serving,” he said.
The first parade had 5,000 people in attendance with 30 participating vehicles. The parades expanded each year, with the ninth event having 140 participants in the parade and 20,000 people spectating.
“It’s really cool, not only for the service members, but those veterans that don’t necessarily look for the attention but deserve the honor for serving,” Virrueta said.
One aspect Virrueta highlighted from past in-person events was a public swearing-in ceremony for enlistees.
“A lot of times when these service members enlist, you’re in a room, your family’s not there, you’re up at the MEPS station, and you raise your right hand and you’re sworn into the military,” he said.
At the parades, a special enlistment ceremony was held at Salinas High School where soldiers-to-be could have their families present to watch.
“We’ve had upwards of 125 young men and women from all branches,” Virrueta said. “Going back 10 years that we’ve done that, it’s interesting to think where they’re at today.”
The only component that was able to move down Main Street in Old Town Salinas were the American Legion Riders of District 28, who rode their motorcycles along the street with live video broadcast as part of this year’s event.
“Over the past five years, the Legion Riders have had the honor of opening our Veterans Day Parade by cruising down Main Street and warming up the crowd,” Virrueta said. “Even in the absence of an actual parade, these riders simply could not pass up the opportunity to come out and honor our veterans.”
Congressman Jimmy Panetta joined the ceremony with a video call. He said the community understands obligation, and while the services and honors of Veterans Transition Center, Veterans Treatment Board and the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery go largely unseen, events such as the Veterans Day Parade highlight the county’s desire to serve those who serve everyone.
“We understand that living in this country is not just going to come naturally, things aren’t just passed down to us,” Panetta said. “Our rights may be self-evident, but they’re not self-executing. So it’s up to us, a nation of we the people, to ensure that it’s we the people who protect, fight and secure the rights for our future.” He added, “That’s why we have veterans. That’s why we have men and women who have stepped up not for the pay, not to repel an attack, but in gratitude to be part of this American experiment, that literally is the best country in humankind, ever.”
Virruetta added that Panetta helps with the public enlistment oath each year when it was possible.
“These young men and women from our local schools, from our community, from our families, are raising their hand, putting on the uniform, stepping up and stepping in for obligation,” Panetta said. “As community members, it makes me proud to see the sons and daughters of our families stepping up and taking that oath every year, and I look forward to doing that as well. That really is what our community and country is about.”