The Oasis Veterans Club in Menifee took its Veterans Day celebration to the streets of the 55+ retirement community Wednesday, Nov. 11, to honor those who have served. Recognizing the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, a group of veterans from that war were deemed grand marshals.
Bill Becker, Don Chapton, Angelo Rini, Bill Urmin, Ken Wright and civilian prisoner of war Ria Mock rode on a flatbed truck decorated with flags from each branch of service or were chauffeured in one of about a dozen classic cars that drove along the approximately 5-mile long parade route. Several patriotically decorated golf carts were also part of the procession that included bicyclists, the Menifee Police Department, two fire department trucks and a World War II-era jeep provided by the March Field Air Museum in Riverside.
A 48-star American flag was mounted on the flatbed, depicting the one that was flown during the period of World War II. Several classic car clubs participated, including members of the Sun City Cruizers and the South Side Axle Draggers. It was the first Veterans Day parade held by the club and only the second parade in its 10-year history.
“We wanted to do something to honor our veterans and for the community,” club president Steve Escoto said.
He said after the club organized a well-received Memorial Day parade in May, it was decided to do another one. Since COVID-19 put an end to the club’s in-person meetings and indoor activities, Escoto said the members have had to get creative.
“Even though we’ve had a rough year, still, we should honor the Greatest Generation for what they did and what they went through,” he said. “To me, this is a day when we honor all U.S. veterans and give thanks to them.”
Founded in 2010 by Ed Yarbrough, the Oasis Veterans Club is a philanthropic nonprofit that supports three key programs: Guitars for Vets based in Loma Linda, Patriotic Service Dog Foundation in Murrieta and the Inland Empire chapter of the national U.S. Vets program. Yarbrough spent 28 years with the U.S. Navy and was part of the planning committee for the parade. He said the club currently has about 70 active members who live in the community of 1,158 homes.
“We raise money through our communitywide recycling program and with our annual dues,” Escoto said, who was in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971. He received a Bronze Star during his Vietnam War service.
Bob Freel, first vice president for the club, has lived at Oasis since 2005. He is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1975.
“This parade is a way to honor those that have served and all my friends who didn’t come back,” he said. “But it’s also to remember those that did come back but are no longer with us.”
Club member Jim Tanksley is a Navy veteran who included his 4-year-old grandson Aaron in the festivities.
“He’ll be wearing the sailor hat his great-grandpa wore during World War II,” Tanksley said. “Me, my dad, brother and sons-in-law all served in the Navy – it’s sort of a family tradition.”
Dignitaries included Mayor Bill Zimmerman and city councilmember Dean Deines who waved to onlookers watching the nearly one-hour long event from in front of their homes. The parade started and ended at the community’s clubhouse, where they both spoke to attendees before it began.
“We want to thank all of you who have served our great nation,” Zimmerman said. “We have a wonderful country and we’re all so proud of it.”
Deines asked all Vietnam War era veterans present to raise their hands to be recognized for their “sacrifice and valor” and to let them know they are not forgotten. To all veterans, he said, “Even though it’s only once a year that we do this, you’re in our thoughts all year long.”
Nick Klaassen served in the U.S. Air Force and watched the parade from his driveway. His front yard was decorated with small flags and a large one flew near his front door.
“This is something special,” he said. “I like it, especially since I’m a veteran myself.”