Downtown Tucson hosts parade for returning vets
Jim O’Rourke/ Arizona Daily Wildcat
Local residents gather on downtown on Saturday for the Tucson Welcome Home Veterans Parade, held to honor service men and women who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. It was the second parade of its kind in the nation, according to event organizers.
Hundreds of community members gathered around downtown Tucson, waving American flags as they watched the second Welcome Home Veterans Parade in the nation.
Saturday’s parade, organized by Alan Toppel, was a way for community members to show their support and thank the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“This is something that the community have firsthand involvement with,” Toppel said. “We are the second city in the country to do this parade. We’re proud of that and we hope that the community is proud of that and that they turn out … to celebrate.”
Tucsonans gathered along the parade route and clapped as vehicles cruised by with veterans and community members holding “Welcome Home” and “In Loving Memory of …” signs. From children to those who served in the Vietnam War, a diverse group of people came together to honor those who “enable our freedom,” said Alex Shemesh, a physiology senior.
“While we are saying thank you to those who are coming back home, it’s also important that we’re appreciating those who are still overseas or those who were not able to make it home,” Shemesh said.
Marching bands paid tribute to the soldiers who recently returned home from the Middle East while servicemen and women in uniform held up flags. Danger Bertoldo, Army combat medic who was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he didn’t expect so many people to show up.
“I’m really happy to see the veterans, the Vietnam veterans and everybody getting support as well,” Bertoldo said. “Seeing that people care about us is always a good thing.”
After reading about a similar parade in St. Louis and learning that it was the first parade of its kind in the United States, Toppel decided to plan a similar parade in Tucson. In just six weeks, Toppel, with the help of volunteers, was able to put on a parade that would honor those in service.
“These are our people. These are our citizens from our area that have done so much for us. This is our opportunity as a community to say thank you,” Toppel said.
The parade began on Stone Avenue and Pennington Street and moved north, turning west on Franklin Street, south on Main Avenue and east on Alameda Street. A giant American flag hung in downtown during the parade, while people “from all walks of life,” according to Shemesh, gathered to show support for their troops.
“We hear about parades all the time for holidays, for the Super Bowl winners, for example,” Shemesh said. “I think the people devoting their lives and making all these sacrifices deserve one much more.”