MONTEREY COUNTY — Monterey County Veterans Day Parade made a grand return this year for its 11th annual patriotic celebration, with thousands of residents from all over gathering in Oldtown Salinas to honor local veterans.
After a live-streamed event last year, more than 100 participants and an estimated 25,000 spectators lined Main Street for the 2021 parade. This was the largest parade to date, according to Parade Chairman Tony Virrueta.
“This is our Super Bowl, as our parade committee has worked hard all year long for this special day,” said Virrueta, an Army veteran and member of Soledad American Legion Post 32.
This year’s grand marshal was Brig. Gen. John Cushing, deputy commanding general for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. Cushing, who has a decorated military career, came from Fort Knox, Ky., to attend the Nov. 11 parade.
Opening ceremonies started at 1:15 p.m. at the Salinas High School parking lot and the parade began at 2 p.m., with a Calstar Helicopter leading the way. New this year were Hometown Heroes veteran banners, which were hung up along the route displaying photos of local veterans.
Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig addressed the area’s veterans at the opening ceremony, while Congressman Jimmy Panetta, a Navy veteran, conducted a mock swear-in for more than 100 future service members from all military branches.
Parade participants from South Monterey County this year included Soledad American Legion Post 32, Soledad High School Navy Junior ROTC, Soledad Mayor Anna Velazquez and Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez of Greenfield.
For the first time, the event also featured an after-parade concert, sponsored by Monterey Pops. The 35-piece band played patriotic music at the steps of the Steinbeck Center, and all eight local high school bands joined them after they marched in the parade.
“It was wonderful to be able to thank and celebrate so many veterans today during the annual Salinas Veterans Day Parade,” Lopez said afterward on social media. “A huge thank you to Tony Virrueta and the whole committee who worked hard year round to fundraise, organize and put on the event.”