"People are starting to wake up," Mel Buttice said Thursday morning while sitting in the very back of a city trolley bus, waiting for the parade to get started.
The ex-airman, now in his late 80s, was commenting on how the general public showed more support for veterans on their day than they did more than half a century ago, when he entered his first Veterans Day parade in Taft, Calif.
Several years later, in the 1950s, when Buttice finally had the opportunity to walk the parade in his own hometown of Walla Walla - where he had walked in other parades numerous times in his youth as a drum major - he still found public support lacking.
"When I came home people never came out for anything. They never paid attention to what was going on," said the man who was responsible for packing parachutes for the crew of the Enola Gay B-29 bomber. On Thursday, 65 years later, Buttice found himself not walking but riding in the heated bus, ready to wave to the crowd that came out to support him and others like him.
"This (parade) is to remind people what we went through all of those years. People don't know what we had going against us," he said.
In front of the trolley where Buttice sat, a Thunderbird convertible with its top down, heaters blasting and engine idling on the cold morning, another veteran also sat and waited for the parade to start.
Retired U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Don Hayes first walked the Veteran's Day parade in Walla Walla after moving here in 1963. And like his fellow airman, Hayes also noted public support has grown in recent years.
"It has come to the forefront a lot more because of a large turnout of support of veterans, especially for the present war veterans," Hayes said.
Since 1963, Hayes has never missed being in Walla Walla's Veteran's Day parade, except for the one year it wasn't held. All Hayes could remember about that year is that it was sometime in the 1960s.
Though the parade is one of the shortest and least attended of all of Walla Walla's parades, that doesn't mean it isn't the most important, at least to some veterans.
"We love to see the people on the sides waving and wishing us well and saying thank you," Hayes added.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.