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Hawai‘i Island Veterans Day Parade returns live this weekend

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A giant U.S. flag will once again fly over Kamehameha Avenue this weekend as one of Hawai‘i’s largest Veterans Day parades marches live throughout downtown Hilo for the first time since 2019 — and its organizers and the veterans it salutes are excited for its return.

“You can’t do everything on Zoom,” Col. Deb Lewis (ret.), chairwoman of the Hawai‘i Island Veterans Day Parade committee, said. “You have to experience a parade to understand it, and the enthusiasm of the crowd helps a lot.”

This file photo is from a past Hawai’i Island Veterans Day Parade.

The Hawai’i Island Veterans Day Parade kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday and will feature 90 units. The parade will wind from makai of Pauahi Street at Wailoa State Recreation Area and travel mauka to Kīlauea Avenue before turning north through downtown until it reaches Waiānuenue Avenue and heading to Kamehameha Avenue and marching along Bayfront to head back to the Wailoa park.

The huge U.S. flag that has become almost synonymous with the event and official reviewing stand, along with three 40-foot tents where differently-abled veterans and their families will be seated, will be near the soccer field road entrance on Kamehameha Avenue.

“The VIPs are the veterans,” Lewis said.

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She hopes to have about 60 veterans under the tents this year, with 20 coming from Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.

This year’s Grand Marshal is the Gold Star families of the Big Island and their loved ones. Gold Star families are those who lost a loved one in military service. They will be honored prior to the parade at 8:15 a.m. at the Aupuni Center. Lewis said the committee wants to honor these families so that the memories of the loved ones they lost can live on.

This year’s parade theme is “Celebrate Service,” and focuses on increasing the involvement of veterans and the community to serve people in need. Lewis said one of the goals of the parade is to educate people about the wonderful things being done to benefit veterans and the community all year long.

Screenshot from the Hawai‘i Island Veterans Day Parade website.

That message is reflected in the parade’s Community and Business marshals.

This year, the Community Parade Marshal is the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island, which served more than 200,000 free hot meals islandwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Home Depot is the 2022 Business Parade Marshal. The business offers a 10% discount for veterans every day.

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The entire purpose of the parade is to honestly and authentically thank the Big Island’s veterans. The event gives the community the chance to really show its appreciate to those who served, some giving up everything, and Lewis said that makes a huge difference.

“I’ve had tears in my eyes watching when they thank the veterans at the end of the parade,” she said. “It’s really such a touching moment.”

The pandemic forced the parade, like many other events around the island, to adjust in 2020 and 2021, but nothing compares to experiencing it live.

“Parade days are magic,” Lewis said, adding in the past the parade has seen turnouts of as many as 2,000 people lining the streets of downtown.

She knows people are busy again, but Lewis hopes the Big Island will come out Saturday to salute veterans and those organizations that honor them. Just thinking about those moments during the parade when veterans finally feel appreciated, the joy on the faces of keiki translating to them, makes all the effort and hard work that goes into putting on the event more than worth it.

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“It brings a lot of joy to people,” Lewis said. “We need that. We really need that these days.”

The veterans the parade is meant to thank and honor can’t wait.

“I am pretty stocked it’s coming back,” said Cap Dekoning, a 40-year-old Army National Guard veteran from Hilo who hopes to be able to attend the parade Saturday. “It shows a lot of pride and being able to show the community just a small glimpse of how many vets are on the Island.”

His friend and fellow veteran, Douglas Gora, also is excited the event is back.

“It brings community and veterans together as well as connecting veterans to veterans that may feel lost post service,” said the 53-year-old Army veteran from O‘ahu who now lives in Hilo.

For more information about the parade, click here.

The parade is one of several events and offers honoring the Big Island’s veterans this weekend. Other events include:

VFW Post 3830 annual Veterans Day Ceremony

  • When: 10 a.m. Veterans Day, Friday, Nov. 11
  • Where: East Hawai’i Veterans Cemetery No. 1, 110 Laimana St., Hilo
  • Click here for more information.

Sumthin Simple Motorcycle Club Veterans Day Drive By Salute

  • When: Begins at 9 a.m., with wheels up at 10 a.m.
  • Where: Veterans Day Ceremony at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo followed by driving by Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.
  • Click here for more information.

Free admission at national parks

  • When: Veterans Day, Friday, Nov. 11
  • Where: All fee-charging national parks, including Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. There also is a new Veterans and Gold Star Family Interagency Lifetime Pass available starting on Veterans Day. The pass provides free access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas.
  • Click here for more information.

Free admission and 40% off zipline tours

  • When: Nov. 11-18
  • Where: Botanical World Adventures, 31-240 Old Mamalahoa Highway, Hakalau
  • Click here for more information or here to make reservations.
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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