How Sonoma County residents can celebrate Veterans Day 2020

With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the parades and other observances of Veterans Day 2020 should have been huge.

But with the pandemic still raging, they can’t be. So people determined to salute military veterans on Wednesday have adjusted to the limits on public gatherings imposed by the coronavirus crisis.

Petalumans will forgo their great and rousing downtown parade, and in its place will send through the streets a Veterans Day motorcycle-accompanied procession of vets in jeeps and cars.

In Santa Rosa, Shirlee Zane, the Sonoma County supervisor and daughter of a Marine, will emcee an open-air program to take place on the west side of the Veterans Memorial Building.

And residents of Oakmont, the community of people 55 and older in easternmost Santa Rosa, will replace their traditional, live Memorial Day salute with a video program that anyone can watch from home.

“We wanted to do something,” said Joe Noriel, who’s in the process of taking over Petaluma’s ambitious Veterans Day parade from longtime coordinator Steve Kemmerle, who is retiring. “Petaluma has never missed a parade.”

Heartbroken that the pandemic makes it impossible for huge numbers of people to safely gather in the heart of Petaluma for a parade on Wednesday, Noriel arranged with the police department for a procession of about 75 vehicles to carry vets through town.

It is set to leave the Veterans Memorial Building on Petaluma Boulevard South at 11:11 a.m. The timing pays tribute to the armistice agreement that brought an end to World War I hostilities on Nov. 11, 1918. In the U.S., Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954.

Veterans of all American wars since World War II are expected to ride in about 75 classic cars, military and other jeeps. The procession will take Petaluma Boulevard South to East Washington, then McDowell Boulevard and on to Petaluma Boulevard North and back to the vets’ building.

Though definitely scaled down from the usual parade, Noriel said the procession will, on Veterans Day, “give people a chance to recognize those who served.”

Also in Petaluma, Patrick Mooney, commander of the city’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and Samantha Vance, VFW Auxiliary president, went to Cypress Hill Cemetery and set out many American flags for visitors to see on Veterans Day.

In Santa Rosa, a tribute to military vets is set to start at or just after 11 a.m. Wednesday outside the Veterans Memorial Building, just across from the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

An organizer, Marine Corps veteran Ross Liscum, said the speakers will include members of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 223, and other organizations in service to vets. Motorcyclists with the American Legion Riders out of Healdsburg will take part as well.

In Oakmont, retired Navy Capt. Bob Cortelyou and others who help to organize an annual Veterans Day commemoration were determined not to the let the pandemic scrub their plans.

Unable to host their customary program, they produced a video that viewers can see by going onto the website of the Oakmont Village Association: The program is set to start at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

Cortelyou said the program, which runs about an hour, will feature an interview with Oakmont residents Joan and Andy Andrew, who met while both served in medical roles in the Navy during World War II.

Also on the video are images from Imperial Japan’s surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945; excepts from Bob Hope’s shows for troops and Kate Smith’s singing of “God Bless America.”

The pandemic forced the cancellation of what would have been the 20th annual Tribute to our Veterans luncheon by Santa Rosa’s Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. The musical, stirring, star-spangled celebration often drew 600 people or more, many of them military vets, the Veterans Memorial Building in early November.

A member of the organizing committee, Rotary member Tom Jackson said, “everybody who's been part of this was disappointed, to a person,” to have to cancel the luncheon this year.

He vowed, “We’re going to do everything in our power to come back bigger and better next year.”

You can reach Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

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