Honored veterans and parade grand marshals rode through downtown Albany on Saturday in the Veterans Day parade in shiny new cars and trucks borrowed from car dealers.
Other veterans waved from classic cars and trucks. Reserve Officer Training Corps students marched in a crisp cadence. And hundreds of bikers rode motorcycles with growling engines. (See page A12 for more on the motorcyclists.)
Oregon National Guardsmen walked or rode in armored vehicles or on military construction vehicles. High school marching band members lugged their instruments through the rain and cheerleaders endured the chilly winds.
But a ride in the back of the Linn County SWAT Team V-150 armored vehicle Saturday morning offered one of the more unique perspectives of the 66th Annual Albany Veterans Day Parade.
Driven by U.S. Air Force veteran and SWAT Team Commander Jeff Schraeder, the rig is a surplus vehicle that used to belong to the Navy. Sitting in the back well of the V-150 offered a unique perspective on the parade, with the drone of the engine drowning out noise from outside, making the procession of spectators almost like a silent movie through the window, waving and cheering and laughing. It was a great way to witness a community that values and celebrates its veterans.
Of course, many veterans were in the crowd, and many of them stood and saluted as the colorful parade rolled past in the rain. Some were old enough to remember the sacrifices made in the Second World War; in fact, Schraeder, before rolling out for the parade, said he'd just returned from Europe, where he and his wife toured the Normandy beaches and the surrounding towns where the first desperate fights to liberate Europe took place in 1944.
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He talked about standing on the landing beach and looking up at the bluffs, and later visiting the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which he said he found incredibly moving.
"It really hit me," he said. "I didn't expect it, but it really got to me, to see all those crosses."
Schraeder also talked about visiting the Angoville-au-Plain church in France, where American paratrooper medics Ken Moore and Bob Wright set up a field hospital during the fighting, treating Allied and German wounded, as well as French civilians and resistance fighters. While the church changed hands several times, the two medics continued to operate with neutrality, earning the respect of the Germans as well.
"There are still blood stains on the pews," Schraeder said.
Such stories are important to preserve. Many more like them have emerged from veterans who have fought in more recent battles. Watching the families and veterans cheer and wave shows us that the memories of soldiers like Moore and Wright will live on.