Maricopa celebrates Veterans Day on Saturday with a colorful, star-spangled parade across town to honor local vets.
The parade rolls at 9 a.m.
The parade route runs from the Maricopa campus of Central Arizona College, 17945 N. Regent Drive, to Leading Edge Academy, 18700 N. Porter Road.
Sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 133, the event includes a free lunch served to veterans and their families at Leading Edge Academy.
The public can view the parade along West Bowlin and North Porter roads.
The parade’s theme is “Welcome Home,” in honor of Vietnam-era veterans, who many believe were never properly welcomed home by the nation.
“There will be several Vietnam veterans in our parade this year, however, Joe Abodeely and (American Legion commander) Tom Kelley will be our distinguished Vietnam veterans,” said Lynise Grell, a Maricopa veteran involved in the parade. “Joe Abodeely led the first relief unit to reach the besieged Khe Sahn firebase in 1968.”
Abodeely has written three books about Vietnam and received Global eBook awards for them. He also started and is the curator of the Arizona Military Museum located on the National Guard base in Scottsdale.
Kelley also serves as Maricopa’s VFW post vice commander.
“He is very active in our community, especially when it comes to making sure all of our local vets are taken care of,” Grell said.
The grand marshal in this year’s parade will be Gene Wyant, a World War II veteran.
Wyant, who may be the last surviving World War II veteran in Maricopa, is this year’s Veterans Day Parade grand marshal.
Wyant, 94, has a storied military career in the U.S. Navy that ultimately led him to Yokohama, Japan, after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing World War II to an end. Wyant was on board the USS South Dakota battleship at the time in August 1945.
This year’s parade grand marshal was just 15 when he transferred to Command L 33 Infantry Regiment at Point Huran Armory, Grell said. It was there that Wyant served guard duty of the Blue Water Bridge and the St. Clair Railroad tunnels along with the Power Plant and coaling station for the Great Lakes Ships.
Part of his job was to help guard Nazi prisoners of war held in Canada who were hired to come across the U.S. border and work for farmers in Michigan. His job was to watch the trains and rivers to make sure none of the Nazi POWs escaped.
He was discharged in September to return to school. Then, at 17, Wyant went to the draft board to reenlist, telling them he was 18. Gene joined the Navy at then and served two years active duty and 10 years in the reserves. He went to boot camp on January 12, 1944, at the Great Lakes Naval Station.
Before he was 18, Wyant traveled the world during his Navy service.