Hundreds line Elk Grove Boulevard to thank military veterans

Marine Cpl. Gurpreet Singh’s family walked to honor their fallen son and brother. Jazmin Love-Wright came with a call to serve. Leo Cloninger came simply to say thank you.

Hundreds lined Elk Grove Boulevard on Monday to thank military men and women for their service to their country at the city’s annual Veterans Day parade. It was a day both solemn and celebratory and as homespun as a Norman Rockwell scene, with its high school marching bands and flag-waving Cub Scout packs, even a hot dog social at the regional park.

“It always humbles me when people show this turnout. This is a day for veterans,” said Navy veteran Thadus Brown, 71, of Elk Grove, a past president of that city’s American Legion Post 233. “To walk down the street and have people thank you for your service – it makes you feel good to be an American. This is a great day.”

With more than 60 entries and nearly 2,000 people marching through the heart of the city, the Elk Grove event is one of the area’s largest Veterans Day parades.

“It’s an opportunity for all of Elk Grove to show their admiration and pride for servicemen and women currently and in the past,” said parade director and Army veteran Norm DeYoung.

Singh was once such service member. The Antelope man was just 21 when he was killed in action June 22, 2011, while leading his Marines on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. In June, he posthumously received the Bronze Star for valor. On Monday, his family walked the parade route carrying a large placard printed with his service photo and a vow: “Never Forget.”

“Never forget,” friend Gurmail Singh said. “He sacrificed his life.”

For veterans in Elk Grove and across the Sacramento region, the day was a time to reflect and remember.

Richard Sirois, a retired command sergeant major, wore his Army green on Monday, rows of ribbons on his chest, a long line of service bars along one arm signifying 30 years of service to his country.

“I came here and wear my uniform proudly in remembrance of all who served,” said Sirois, 73, of Elk Grove. “In my era – Vietnam – we were not treated the way they are today. Be proud to serve your country. It’s not bad to serve your country.”

A few feet away, newly sworn Air Force recruit Love-Wright posed for photos with friends. Minutes earlier, she and others recited their oaths of enlistment, swearing to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

“It’s being part of something bigger. We are the next generation, so why don’t we think about that now? It’s a privilege,” Love-Wright, 18, of Elk Grove, said before glancing toward the older veterans. “I look up to them.”

Cloninger of Elk Grove does too, in his quiet way. For years, he’s carried a small handwritten sign to the parade that says simply, “Thanks.”

“I think I’m getting more out of this than anyone else,” said the retired teacher. “I’m still schmaltzy enough where I can still tear up when the flag goes by. It’s a good experience.”