Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the 71st annual Armed Forces Day Parade on Saturday, May 19 in Bremerton. Sponsored by the Kitsap Credit Union, the event is said by city officials to be the most popular and longest running Armed Forces Day parade in US history.
This year’s Armed Forces Day Parade grand marshal honor goes to Adm. James F. Caldwell Jr., who serves as the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. He is the seventh director of naval reactors since the organization’s formation in 1949.
Adm. Caldwell not only graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering, he did so with distinction. From Naval Postgraduate School, he also holds a Master of Science in Operations Research.
Locally, Adm. Caldwell commanded Submarine Group 9 in Bangor, according to his US Navy biography. Not to mention, he commanded the USS Jacksonville in Norfolk, Virginia; the Submarine Development Squadron (DEVRON) 12 in New London, Connecticut; and the Submarine Force, US Pacific Fleet, Hawaii.
“His sea tours include service in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets,” according to the US Navy. “His operational assignments include duty as a division officer on USS Boston (SSN 703), engineering officer on USS Alabama (SSBN 731) (GOLD) and executive officer on USS Buffalo (SSN 715).”
In addition to the extensive list of experiences which Adm. Caldwell holds, he too has many distinguished awards such as the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Distinguished Service Medal and the Naval Submarine League’s Charles A. Lockwood Award for Submarine Professional Excellence.
People from all over Washington — and even from out of state — flock to Bremerton every third Saturday of May to celebrate and honor veterans, reserve and active duty military forces such as Adm. Caldwell with a parade. The annual event originally began in 1948 to recognize a Medal of Honor recipient in John “Bud” Hawk.
Hawk was a soldier in the US Army after growing up on Bainbridge Island and attending Bainbridge High School. The hometown hero, as he’s often referred to, was wounded in his right leg during WWII. Still, he continued to fight in the prominent battle of the Falaise pocket.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman in Olympia on July 13, 1945. Not only that, Hawk was wounded multiple other times after he recovered from his leg injury and continued serving. He earned four Purple Hearts, and after passing away in 2013, Jackson Park Elementary School in Bremerton was named after Hawk to commemorate his service.
But even though Hawk is no longer with us today, his name and memory live on.
The annual parade has grown in attendance since its initial years to about 25,000 to 30,000 spectators. This is what makes the event unique, said Gena Wales, president and chief executive officer of the Bremerton Chamer of Commerce.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s pouring down rain or sunny, people always come out to support our troops,” she said.
That will certainly be the case again this year. And it’s not just the spectators that will be traveling from afar. Wales said she expects 19 bands to participate in the event — three of which will be journeying from eastern Washington.
The total number of bands is an increase from last year’s 15 and the total number of entries will also go up from 145 last year to 150 this May. One of the many entries spectators will likely see in the parade is for commemoration of the USS Bremerton, a ship named after the city of Bremerton.
In fact, the USS Bremerton became the oldest commissioned submarine in the entire US fleet in early 2010 and officially began the decommissioning process when it arrived in Bremerton on April 27.
Another entry that Wales mentioned is for Burke Waldron, a WWII veteran. Waldron has attended the parade multiple times in the past — 14 consecutive years, to be exact. The 2nd Class Petty Officer began his military career at Pearl Harbor and was involved in the Saipan and Makin Island invasions.
Before the entries and the Grand Marshal come marching down the streets at 10 a.m., though, there will be an annual pancake breakfast put on by the Bremerton Central Lions Club. That is scheduled to take place, beginning at 7 a.m. The cost for that is just $5.
The parade route has changed slightly from last year. Instead of beginning on 6th street and Chester, it will begin on Warren Avenue and run through 6th St. Then, like last year, it will go through Park Avenue, 4th St. and Pacific Avenue. The parade will conclude at Pacific Avenue and 8th St.
Other activies happening through out the day is a Hero’s Barbeque which provides a free hot dog, chips and soda meal to all Active-duty, Reserve, Retired and Veterans. There will be street boothes on 5th street and much more.
— Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap Daily News. Contact him at Jmoore@Soundpublishing.com or follow him on Twitter @JMooreKDN.