Janesville gathers together to give veterans their day
WCLO's Stan Stricker reports on Memorial Day Ceremonies in Janesville's Traxler Park
JANESVILLE The colors and sounds of Janesville’s Memorial Day parade brightened the streets of the city’s downtown Monday and led a march toward Traxler Park, where hundreds celebrated the honor and memory of the city’s fallen soldiers.
Hundreds marched. Scores watched. Everyone felt something.
From the north curb of Milwaukee Street just west of the Rock River, George Smith, 86, of Janesville watched Monday’s parade go by. He had on a blue U.S. Navy hat.
Smith, who served in the Navy in World War II, said it makes him proud to see aging local veterans continue to march in Janesville’s Memorial Day parade.
“We’re getting older, you know,” he said.
Smith turned to watch some of the parade’s younger entrants. Clad in black T-shirts and khaki shorts, members of the Janesville Craig High School marching band tromped by, pounding drums and blowing notes from wood and brass instruments.
Across the street from the second story of a tan storefront, a man in a red shirt hung out of a bay window, waving his arms at the band as it played “God Bless America.”
Further west along Milwaukee Street, Dewey Peterson, 45, of Janesville stood at attention as the parade’s color guard marched past.
Peterson said his father, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, had taught him to give respect to those who have served the country.
“I’m always surprised to see people leave their hats on when the guard passes. I learned that you stand up and show respect for those people. That’s how you thank them,” Peterson said.
At the Milwaukee Street Bridge, an honor guard fired its guns. As the smell of gunpowder and the river’s musk mixed, youths scuttled around picking up spent rifle shells.
Andrew Gorniak, 4, of Janesville proudly showed off his gun shell. His parents asked him if the soldiers were his favorite part of the parade. He just smiled.
Further up the street, an elderly woman with a hearing aid cocked her ear toward the tall, green ranks of the Janesville Parker High School marching band as it thundered out a drum cadence.
“They sound amazing,” she said.
As the parade turned and wound its way north along Main Street, the crowd began to follow it toward Veterans Plaza at Traxler Park, where guns with helmets perched atop stood at the center of the monument.
Boats whizzed by on the river to the west while locals gathered around the plaza to hear music, poetry and fervent young speakers shout about honor, respect and heroes.
Craig High School student Lauren O’Dell decried a youth culture that’s unaware of the sacrifices veterans have made to give them the freedom to send text messages, go to the mall and surf the Internet.
“It is insulting to listen to people that cannot tell you how many stars and stripes are on the American flag, symbol of so many heroes’ blood sweat and tears,” O’Dell said.
Janesville Native Bob Cook, a former member of the U.S. Army National Guard and a member of the 32nd Red Arrow Club Old Timers, carried a flag in the parade Monday as part of the color guard. Cook, 72, said he plans to march in parades as long as his legs hold up.
But he looks to young people to carry flags of honor into the future.
“It’s something special to see young people turn out to respect the flag,” Cook said. “When a young kid comes up to you and shows they understand all you did for the country, it makes you smile.”