Armed Forces Day Parade: Fond memories live on despite 2021 cancellation

By Leah Olson

Navy family member and Bremerton resident

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched into a second year, the annual Bremerton Armed Forces Day Parade wasn’t staged for a second straight summer. Leah Olson, a former U.S. Navy child and a Bremerton resident, remembers the excitement of seeing the annual parade. She shares her memories of the beloved event from past years.

I was in second grade when my father transferred to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, now called Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. I can remember how comforting it was to be in my new school with others who shared a strong sense of pride being a “Navy kid.” It was in junior high when I attended my first Bremerton Armed Forces Day parade. From my first parade until now, I still feel that sense of exhilaration and pride to be involved in the now longest-running parade in U.S. history (since 1948).

Unfortunately, as with last year, the parade wasn’t held this year. I imagine I am not the only one sad not to have this annual tradition come to life for our community.

To me this isn’t just a parade, it’s a time for our community to come together and celebrate our active-duty military, veterans and their families. It gives us an opportunity to honor those who have sacrificed to provide for our defense and contribute a great deal to the economic strength of our community.

In addition to my father, my sister and brother-in-law were in the Army; three brothers-in-law were Navy; and a niece and nephew are currently serving in the Navy. To honor my family and to fulfill my dream of being in the parade, I couldn’t wait to join the drill team at Bremerton High School.

I remember the first time I marched in the parade. The air was thick with the smell of hairspray when I arrived at school in my sailor-inspired uniform and tasseled boots. Even though there was a misty fog, it couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds lining the route.

As if on cue, the sun burned through the fog as we rounded the first corner. We were met with a roar from the crowd responding to the beat of our metal-tapped boots marching in rhythm with the cadence of the drum core.

The band played our fight song to the Navy tune “Anchors Away.” I saw those in uniform stand at attention. It put a lump in my throat as I reflected on the times “Dad’s boat” returned from sea lined with men in uniform at attention anticipating reuniting with their loved ones (that was before the days of women onboard).

I felt so proud that day and have wanted to be a part of the Armed Forces Day celebrations ever since.

My love for the parade and what it represents remained strong into my adulthood. I volunteered as a parade judge and assessed performance entries. When I began working at Kitsap Credit Union, I found yet another way to show my and the organization’s appreciation for our veterans. I’ve been fortunate to support the credit union’s participation and sponsorship of the parade for the past 20 years.

Later, I joined the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce Board where I was able to help local businesses establish successful partnerships with the military. It also allowed me to play a role in planning and organizing the Armed Forces Parade. Kitsap Credit Union also has been the title sponsor of the Armed Forces Festival for three years to help ensure this important tribute continues.

While we couldn’t line up on the streets for what should’ve been the 74th consecutive year of the parade, I still have a strong sense of pride every time I think about it. I will forever honor those who have served and are currently serving in the military, and the family members who keep the home fires burning while their loved ones serve.­