Torrance's Armed Forces Day Parade today
By Nick Green, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/14/2009 07:57:33 PM PDT
The 49th Annual Torrance Armed Forces Day Parade featured 86 entries that paraded down Torrance Boulevard. Military vehicles of all sizes rumble up the parade route. (Staff photo)
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With its municipal sponsorship, thousands of participants and tens of thousands of spectators, today's 50th annual Armed Forces Day Parade is a massive organizational task.
So it's easy to forget that without the dedication of individuals, the event would not exist.
What's billed as the nation's longest-running parade sponsored by any city has evolved over the years as patriotism has ebbed and flowed and attendance has increased and fallen.
But one constant has been those who worked behind the scenes to ensure its success.
Former Mayor Dee Hardison noted that even when a shrinking municipal budget led to calls by some to eliminate the parade in the mid-1990s, city leaders rejected killing an event that has come to define Torrance.
"We're an aerospace community," she said, adding that the city's Rose Parade float and the Armed Forces Day Parade help make Torrance unique.
The Torrance parade survived even as others around the nation folded through indifference.
"The council decided they would be the last cuts they made," she added. "They identify our city."
The parade's existence was also threatened in 1979 in the wake of budget cuts prompted by the passage of Proposition 13.
But the Torrance Exchange Club, led by longtime local insurance agent William J. Johnson, came to the rescue,
persuading local businesses to donate money to keep the event rolling.
"He was the real hero," said Ronald Halvas, who was then an employee of insurance agency Birgante & Johnson. "Bill was very civic minded."
Former Torrance Police Capt. Darrell Lanham served as parade coordinator for many years.
In 1985 he was honored by the Department of Defense with the Secretary of Defense Medal for his work over the previous 14 years.
His service with the Torrance
Armed Forces Day Parade 1984. California National Guard tank.
Police Department began in 1957 and predated the parade.
"Capt. Lanham's faithful dedication withstood the lean years and helped the parade become one of the nation's largest Armed Forces Day observances," said a Department of Defense spokesman.
Lanham still lives in Torrance, but declined to be interviewed for this article.
Still, many remember his contributions.
"He really was a very conscientious police captain," said former Councilman Dick Rossberg. "It was one of the duties assigned to him and he did a great job."
Retired Torrance police Capt. James Weyant, known as the department's unofficial historian, grew up with the parade.
He moved to Torrance at age 14 in 1955, graduated from Torrance High School in 1958 and, as a rookie cop in 1963, was assigned to drive a dignitary around on the day of the parade.
The parade was a constant during his 32-year Police Department career.
"Even the most macho cops among us did take a lot of pride in being on display with the military," he said, noting that police on all shifts are expected to wear dress uniforms for the day.
Weyant remembers undercover officers taking places in the crowd during the 1960s in case anti-war protesters attempted to disrupt the event.
He recalls the ever-diminishing group of Pearl Harbor survivors who would march in Hawaiian shirts year after year.
And as parade coordinator in 1986 and 1987, Weyant would make the annual trip to the Pentagon the fall before the May parade was held, ensuring the event would receive the support of top military brass.
"Until I was in that role I never realized how political those events could be," he said. "For some (local politicians) this is their big thing - who is before somebody else (in the parade lineup) is very sensitive to them, particularly if one doesn't like the other one.
"It was a kick," Weyant added. "I finally decided to do it in alphabetical order and that way no one could hassle me."
Of course, that put then-Councilman Bill Applegate up first, right behind the Torrance Mounted Posse. He jokingly scolded Weyant about the position because his car closely followed the horses that would leave a large mess on the street as they trotted down the parade route.
Weyant was especially proud of persuading a local elementary school teacher to teach her kids to sing a few stanzas of the official song for each branch of the service at the post-parade banquet.
"When they got to the Marine Corps hymn, every Marine in the place stood on their chairs and yelled `booyah!"' Weyant said. "It was really impressive. They loved it."
Torrance Armed Forces Day Parade is Saturday
Posted: 05/12/2009 09:39:48 PM PDT
Torrance. Torrance's 50th annual Armed Forces Day Parade, the nation's longest-running military parade sponsored by a city and the only major military parade in Southern California, will be held Saturday. Activities begin Friday with military exhibits on display, including aircraft, vehicles and support equipment, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Del Amo Fashion Center. Exhibits continue through the weekend until 3 p.m. Sunday.
The parade begins 1:30 p.m. Saturday beginning at Crenshaw Boulevard and traveling west on Torrance Boulevard, ending at Madrona Avenue. Details are available on the Internet at http://www.dailybreeze.com/armedforces.
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