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Tens of thousands honor veterans at Petaluma parade

  • Ellen Nugent, left, and Marylou Loustalot , Navy WAVES veterans, take part in the Veterans Day Parade on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, in Petaluma. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat)

Petaluma with its small-town atmosphere held a big-time Veterans Day Parade on Sunday, drawing a crowd of about 30,000 to watch men and women in uniform marching in formation, vintage military vehicles, classic cars and more.

The event was punctuated by a crowd-pleasing flyover of World War II warplanes, which had the crowd craning necks and shielding eyes from the sun.

"It is a wonderful opportunity to bring the kids out and celebrate the service of the men and women in the service," said Pat Williams, a Petaluma newcomer who said the parade lived up to its billing. "We were told not to miss it."

The parade has grown steadily since its founding in 1986, with 176 entries and 2,000 participants this year, said Steve Kemmerle, a member of American Legion Post 28 and the parade's coordinator.

"It is a way of thanking the people," said Kemmerle, a Vietnam veteran. "You have past veterans, you have current veterans and, hopefully, you have future veterans."

Kemmerle said the parade cost about $35,000 to put on, with the money raised through donations, and he said it's the largest Veterans Day parade north of San Francisco. He estimated the crowd at 32,000.

"It seems to get bigger every year," said Joe Noriel, president of the Petaluma Museum. "That is the one thing special about Petaluma: It takes the time to honor its veterans."

The sidewalks were packed with a patriotic crowd, many with small American flags, that clapped loud and continuously.

"It is good to remember what our country has done for us," said Kathy Cardoza of Petaluma. "It makes you very proud."

Erica Hokett of Petaluma held a hand-made "thank you" sign near the start of the parade near Walnut Park.

"It is just because I am thankful for everything they have done," Hokett said. "It is a lot of sacrifice."

There was also a large number of appreciative veterans.

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