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Hawai’i Island Veterans Day Parade returned with smiling faces and American flags waving

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Three-year-old Meleana Love waves a small U.S. flag with enthusiasm as she watches the Hawai‘i Island Veterans Day Parade on Saturday morning in downtown Hilo with her family. Photo by Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now.

The huge U.S. flag above Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo waved in the wind Saturday morning, while the crowd below celebrated the men and women who dedicated themselves to protecting the country and its freedoms.

It was the return of the Hawai‘i Island Veterans Day Parade, live and in person after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

People from around the island turned out for the festivities.

Heather Dolfo holds her 2-year-old grandson Harukaze Torres as they watch the Hawai‘i Island Veterans Day Parade on Saturday morning in downtown Hilo. Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

The parade featured 90 units, displaying their patriotic pride with flags, signs and other symbols of America. Many of the hundreds who lined the streets from Wailoa State Recreation Area to Waiānuenue Avenue were decked out in red, white and blue.

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Parade participants included veterans, active-duty service members and Gold Star families, who paid the ultimate price with the loss of loved ones in service to their country.

There also were motorcyclists, who also were veterans, who stopped at the end of the parade route to salute their differently-abled comrades.

Slideshow photos by Tiffany DeMasters and Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo softball team carried a giant flag as members marched. Classic cars cruised casually along the route. Others, including Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth, marched while waving to the crowd. Even a few aircraft flew over Bayfront to start the festivities.

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“We’re just grateful for and thankful for all the veterans who served our country for our freedom,” said Victoria Naboa, who watched the parade from Kamehameha Avenue near the Hele gas station.

She was excited the parade returned live after its two-year hiatus; she used to help with the Cub Scouts and marched in previous Veterans Day parades. Naboa was with her family, including her daughter Jade, who said her favorite part of the parade was watching all of the people marching.

Heather Dolfo sat in the back of a truck with her 2-year-old grandson Harukaze Torres. He was born during the pandemic, so Saturday’s parade was his first. The toddler was already pumped up just watching the pre-parade activity.

“It’s exciting for him,” she said.

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For Dolfo, who has a son currently serving in the Air Force on the mainland, the parade is an important way to honor those who have served.

Chris Torres, Harukaze’s father, said he wants his son to know that his uncles, his grandfather and some of his friends served for a good purpose.

“He gets to wake up in a house, have clothes on his back, he’s never hungry; just normal stuff that a lot of people take for granted everyday,” Torres said. “It’s important to remember veterans because they’re the ones who fought for our freedom. They’re the ones who fought for us to have the everyday life that we have.”

Torres said many people forget that or pretend like it’s nothing major, but when it’s a loved one or a friend, or even a close compatriot, who answers the call to serve, their safety is paramount: “You’re always thankful for them going out there and doing what a lot of us won’t or can’t do.

“So to all the veterans, people who are currently in the military … thank you, everybody because I have a 2-year-old son that I get to be here with, and I know you guys miss your guys’ families, too, but when you guys come home, I promise you, it’s definitely worth it.”

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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