The Legion Riders head toward NMMI during the Veterans Day Parade, Saturday. Mark Wilson Photo
Emotions and winds were high Saturday during the city and county’s Veterans Day Parade, which honored U.S. military personnel of all ranks and branches.
Residents, veterans and city officials gathered at the War Memorial as Rep. Bob Wooley said the parade was a time to “pay tribute to those we have lost, say a prayer for those currently fighting and honor those who have served.”
City Councilor Steven Henderson read a proclamation stating that Nov. 5 through Nov. 11 marked “Veterans Week” in the city of Roswell, giving residents the “opportunity to honor veterans for the sacrifices they have made for our country.”
The parade proceeded north on Main Street to New Mexico Military Institute, escorted by police. Cars decorated to honor a veteran inside drove one at a time and were announced as they drove by, to applause and cheers from the crowd.
The procession also included various organizations, such as the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Guard, New Mexico National Guardsmen, Patriot Guard, American Legion, Valley Vintage Motor Car Club and marching bands from local high schools and middle schools.
Flags rippled in strong winds that also scattered leaves — and a few items of clothing — across the ground. According to the National Weather Service, wind speeds reached as high as 52 mph.
Sheryl Foland said the wind was a “non-deterrent.”
She stood on the sides cheering and waving a tiny flag given to her by Girl Scouts. The back of her sweatshirt read, “My Sister Wears Combat Boots in the U.S. Navy.” She said her son served five years in the Navy. Her sister-in-law, also in the Navy, has served two terms in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
“Seeing our veterans and their supporters … it touches my heart,” Foland said. “As a family member, there’s not much I can do except send care packages.
“But I embrace my community veterans to let them know that we do care and they haven’t been forgotten.”
For others, the event was a time to reflect. After the parade made its way to the Institute’s Stapp Parade Field, a retired Roswell firefighter sat on a bench at Fifth and Main Street. In his hands, he held a tiny flag.
“All the red on the flag symbolizes the blood that was shed by all the patriots,” said the man who asked not to be named. “Any chance you get to wave the flag and be patriotic, I think that’s what you ought to do.”
The man said he was not a veteran, but he had been drafted during the Vietnam War. Then 19 years old and a full-time college student, he was excused. Later in life, he found the name of a friend who’d also been drafted among others listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“It strikes me close to home,” said the man, now 67. “I reflect back on how I’ve spent my life … He did not make it back and I did not have to go.”
Following the Institute’s Regimental Review, Lt. Col. Dennis Johnson of the U.S. Army stood on the field, surrounded by friends, family members and others who just wanted to show their appreciation for his service.
During the opening ceremony, he, Warrant Officer Jack Swickard of the U.S. Army and Major John Schaffer of the U.S. Air Force laid wreaths at the memorial. They also received the Medal of Valor.
Dressed in a Class A uniform adorned with honorary badges earned through his 25 years of service, Johnson said the event was “probably one of the top experiences of my life.”
As a Vietnam veteran, he said there should be more focus on them as far as making them feel appreciated. He said it was a nice gesture by the city of Roswell to honor them with a reception he never got when he returned home.
“I really have no words to explain it,” he said. “We, the veterans, are very touched.”