Exactly 100 years ago, in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year (Nov. 11, 1918), World War I formally ended. The occasion was henceforth remembered and observed as Armistice Day in the US, always on Nov. 11, until 1954, when the holiday was officially renamed Veteran’s Day.
This year, during Petaluma’s annual downtown Veteran’s Day Parade, the centennial of the end of WWI (sadly not the “war to end all wars” as it was then called) will be marked, mentioned and remembered by at least some of the estimate 1700 participants. Last year’s parade attracted 40,000 people to what is now the largest Veteran’s Day event north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Veterans from all the wars fought since will also be honored, as marching bands, floats, armored vehicles, color guards, antique cars carrying notable persons, horses, motorcycles, airplanes and a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter (making a flyover, of course) proceed from Walnut Park, down Fourth Street and Kentucky, and back to the park along Petaluma Boulevard.
Petaluma’s parade has been officially taking place since 1986, when — according to one version of the story — 50 veterans joined the late Julius Forcucci, a WWII veteran who’d been carrying a flag down that same approximate route — along with two of his old war buddies — every Veterans Day since the mid-1960s. Rapidly expanding, the event has become a beloved annual tradition, beginning with music on Walnut Park, and concluding with a memorial service in the park following the parade.
This year — in part to pay thanks to the many first-responders who risked their lives during last year’s firestorms — the parade will include representatives from a number of police and fire departments.
This year’s parade Grand Marshals are Terry Park and Ken Vabkar, both of Petaluma.
Park, a 30-year veteran of the National Guard, served in Vietnam, and is the author of a book on Petaluma gas stations. Vabkar also served in Vietnam, where he was a dog handler with the Army. He was awarded a bronze star.
According to parade organizer Steve Kemmerle, other notable appearances this year will include Roseville’s Richard Nowatzki, 94, a WWII participant in the historic “Doolittle Raid” on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Nowatzki was serving aboard the U.S.S. Hornet, from which the squadron of planes, led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, began the assault. Nowatzki later fought in the Battle of Midway, and was rescued at sea following the sinking of the Hornet. He is the author of the book “Memoirs of a Navy Major.” He will be presented with an official proclamation from the City of Petaluma, which has declared Richard Nowatzki Day. He’ll be discussing his story during a free special event on Monday, Nov. 12, at Sunrise of Petaluma, at 10 a.m. The event is presented by History Connection of Petaluma.
Kowatzki will ride in the parade, immediately after the grand marshals.
VETERANS DAY EVENTS
Noon: Pre-parade music in Walnut Park, provided by Johnathan Parneli and Friends. In the gazebo, corner of Petaluma Boulevard and D Street.
1 p.m.: Parade begins. The procession route will begin at Walnut Park, travel along Fourth Street onto Kentucky, turning onto E. Washington, then onto Petaluma Boulevard and back to Walnut Park.
2:45 p.m.: Post-parade festivities at the Walnut Park gazebo include opening prayers and pledge of allegiance, and a program honoring Petaluma’s veterans. Speakers include Gary Greeno, U.S. Navy, who served in Vietnam. Andrea Krout will sing the National Anthem and “God Bless America.”
Monday, Nov. 12, 10 a.m.
A talk by WWII veteran Richared Nowatzki, at Sunrise of Petaluma, 815 Wood Sorrel Dr.