Fire engine sirens blared, Harley-Davidson engines revved, cheerleaders chanted and crowds cheered as the 2023 Veterans Day Parade made its way up Main Avenue on Saturday morning in Durango.
People lined the streets for the annual parade to pay their respects and show their gratitude to the men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Later in the day, spectators were treated to a fly-over by the 140th Wing F-16 Fighting Falcons and an open house at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4031.
Fran Pearlmutter, a World War II code breaker, rode through the parade in a military jeep. And Bill Morris who served in the Korean War and is now in his late 80s, walked all the way up Main Avenue for the parade.
Ellen Babers, Durango community events administrator, said she estimates between 800 and 1,000 people attended the parade. That’s not counting people participating in the parade, of which there were about 200.
Mike Benton, VFW commander and parade marshal, said on Saturday before the parade he had 30 organizations participating, and he anticipated several more to sign in at the last minute.
The people and organizations featured in the parade included but were not limited to the Durango Youth Hockey Association’s Ice Devils, the Durango High School Red Pride Marching Band, La Plata County Mounted Patrol, the Southwest Republican Women and La Plata County GOP, the Tin Lizzies, over 30 Harley-Davidson riders and other groups.
The point behind the festivities was to recognize the brave men and women who served to protect the country and the freedoms Americans enjoy, and plenty of veterans were in the crowds on Saturday.
Jim Akin, a retired U. S Air Force veteran, served in the Armed Forces and specialized in electronics maintenance for 23 years during the Vietnam War. Although he never served in Vietnam, he traveled the world and spent time in England, Turkey and Berlin.
He said he accumulated many technical skills and life experiences while serving abroad.
“Just traveling and seeing the world. I enjoyed the job and enjoyed the work. I really, really liked it,” he said.
His daughter-in-law, Shanda Akin, also served in the Air Force for 25 years after graduating from DHS in 1991. She said the most valuable skill she developed during her time was the art of resiliency.
“I did seven different jobs in my Air Force career,” she said. “But resiliency is probably one of the biggest ones. No matter what it was – a move to a different country or a different city or a different job or whatever it involved – it was the skills to push through and work through those challenging moments.”
Veterans Day is important because it’s a reminder of veterans’ sacrifices, she said.
Looking to Jim Akins, she said, “The Vietnam vets didn’t get the appreciation and the ‘thank yous’ and the ‘welcome homes’ that we did even in our generations. It’s a lot more than I think your average citizen understands or realizes what it is about. … For me, to be able to be here and say ‘thank you’ to the veterans who paved the path for me, even, it made my service that much better.”
Steve Ashburn, 76, is a proud American and Navy veteran. He lives near Pastorius Reservoir these days. But during the Vietnam War, he was stationed at the Bethesda Navy Hospital (Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) in Bethesda, Maryland.
He said he followed in the footsteps of his father and inspired his son, Russell Ashburn, to join the Navy, too.
Veterans Day is a reminder to layman Americans to talk to local veterans because they have a lot of knowledge and experience to share.
“When you’re proud of something that you have done in your life then it’s good to let other people know. It was a good experience,” he said.
During his service, Ashburn studied nuclear medicine, which John Hopkins Medicine describes as “a specialized area of radiology that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to examine organ function and structure.”
Ashburn’s father was a proud serviceman, and it’s his pride for the country and for military service Ashburn believes inspired him to join the Armed Forces. The same goes for Ashburn’s son, Russell, he said.
“ (Russell) saw that I was proud of what I did in the service. He worked in aviation and was happy that he served,” he said. “If we don’t honor and remember our veterans, then we’re losing a whole lot.”
Frank Vandruff, another parade-goer on Saturday, traveled from Kirtland, New Mexico, to be in Durango and support the Aztec veterans community. He said he didn’t serve in the Armed Forces, but his father served in the 1950s Korean War, and his daughter joined the Navy in 2022 and is currently stationed in Japan.
He said he worries for his daughter, but “like she said, it’s what her destination is.” And he’s very proud of her.
He said veterans can be thanked for every freedom Americans enjoy.
“To be able to have our home, to be able to go to church on Sundays,” he said. “ … For us to be able to enjoy a parade today, to be able to go forth and watch people … To be able to fly that flag under freedom. That means everything.”
He said the freedom of having differing political parties and opinions is thanks to veterans’ sacrifices. And some members of the younger generations don’t understand the sacrifices made.
“They need to go back and listen to a little bit of history and pay a little respect to these elders,” he said.
His father taught him that “a friend is a friend and a neighbor is a neighbor,” and it doesn’t matter how close or far someone is, during times of need, it’s time to help take care of each other.
“I’m just grateful for what I’ve got,” he said.