Returning veterans highlight parade

About a dozen of the 37 local National Guard members who returned in August rode in the parade.

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WALLA WALLA — As expected in a parade, numerous people, animals, classic autos and men in fezzes driving tiny cars migrated down Main Street on Saturday.

But what was unexpected was that a mission was also accomplished for the soldiers of war.

"These soldiers were going quietly to war and coming home quietly," said National Guard Family Response Group spokeswoman Roxanne Hinkle.

"We decided that was no longer going to happen," she added, explaining why she felt compelled to act upon a special invite from parade representatives.

With some 37 local National Guard members who returned in August, Hinkle made more than 70 phone calls to invite, encourage, convince and flat

out lie to get the humble young men and women to take part in the Walla Walla County Fair & Frontier Days Parade.

"I had to lie to them. I said, ‘Well all the other guys are going to be here. So you have to be here too,’" she said.

About a dozen of those 37 showed up. Among them was Sgt. Ryan Newton, 27.

"They called us up and said would you like to be in our parade. And we said sure," Newton said.

For Newton, who returned home Aug. 21 to his wife and two children, Saturday was his last day off before heading back to his civilian job at the penitentiary.

"I am heading straight back to work. I start tomorrow (Sunday). I have had a week off with my family," he added.

At 9 a.m. the National Guard members started gathering, flanked on all sides by other veterans from wars past, including 30 motorcycle-riding members of Combat Veterans International Chapter 10.

As they rode in mostly on Harleys — but there were a few Honda Goldwings and other foreign models — Spc. Kyle Christian, 21, seemed to enjoy the sounds and sights of the rumbling bikes.

"Strength in numbers," Christian said, looking at the Harleys and lamenting the fact he did not have his motorcycle.

"They told me to leave it at home, and they are making me ride that," Christian said, referring to a flatbed parade trailer the city provided for the soldiers who came home in August and those who came home so long ago they would rather sit than walk.

Christian added he would have preferred to walk, noting that is what he has been doing for the last nine months in Iraq.

"We did. The entire team. Except for when we were out on missions," he said, and later added, "It feels great to be back with family and friends."

Newton, standing next to Christian at that moment, agreed and said, "Nothing feels better than to be back home. Nothing like it. Nothing like it."

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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