Anyone who lives in or near Bremerton knows that it’s a Navy town. And they come out in full force to celebrate that on Armed Forced Day each year.
Bremerton will celebrate its 69th annual Armed Forces Day on Saturday, May 20 with a parade, pancake breakfast, barbecue luncheon and a host of festive activities honoring our veterans, active duty and reserve forces.
According to local officials, this event is the longest running Armed Forces Day parade in the U.S. and is officially recognized by the Department of Defense.
The parade begins at 10 a.m. sharp, followed by a Heroes’ Barbecue that provides a free hot dog, chips and soda to all active-duty, reserve, retired and veteran service personnel.
Vice Adm. Nora Tyson will serve as this year’s Armed Forces Day Parade grand marshal. She is commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, based in San Diego, California.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Vice Adm. Tyson graduated from Vanderbilt University and received her commission from Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. She earned her wings as a naval flight officer in 1983 and reported to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 4, where she ultimately served three tours at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, including one as commanding officer.
Tyson also commanded the amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan (LHD 5), leading the U.S. Navy’s contributions to disaster relief efforts on the U.S. Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and deploying twice to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her other commands include Task Force 73, Logistics Group Western Pacific based in Singapore and, most recently Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2, where she led the USS George H.W. Bush Strike Group on its maiden deployment in support of operations in both 6th and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility.
Her other tours at sea include assistant operations officer aboard the training aircraft carrier, USS Lexington (AVT 16), and navigator aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65).
Her shore tours includes service on the Joint Staff as a political-military planner in the Asia-Pacific Division of the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J-5); executive assistant for the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; as director of staff for Commander, Naval Forces Europe/Commander, 6th Fleet; executive assistant for the Chief of Naval Operations; and vice director, Joint Staff. Tyson’s last tour was as deputy commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Tyson reported as commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet in July 2015.
Tyson earned a master of arts degree in National Security and Strategic Affairs from the U.S. Naval War College in 1995.
She is the first female fleet commander in American history. She has served in this capacity for the past 18 months.
The parade’s annual attendance is 25,000 to 40,000 people from all over Western Washington. Entries come from as far away as Oregon and Spokane to participate in this event.
The parade includes all branches of the military, police and firefighters, youth organizations, dignitaries, commercial businesses, car clubs and more.
Bremerton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gena Wales said she anticipates 145 entries, including 15 marching bands in this year’s parade.
Bremerton started the parade in 1948 to honor John “Bud” Hawk, Known as Bremerton’s hometown hero, Hawk entered the service in Bremerton and was awarded a Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman at the State Capitol in Olympia. He died in November 2013.
Hawk, who taught fifth and sixth grade in Kitsap County beginning in 1952, started his teaching career at Tracyton Elementary. In addition to his Medal of Honor, Hawk was the recipient of four Purple Hearts and a Distinguished Conduct Medal from the United Kingdom. An elementary school in Silverdale is named in his honor.
The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated nationally on May 20, 1950, one month before the Korean War began. The holiday was officially designated in 1949. Prior to that, each branch of the military had its own special day. The day was created by President Truman on Aug. 31, 1949. The five branches of the armed forces had just been consolidated under the Department of Defense.
In a speech announcing the formation of the day, President Truman “praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas” and said, “it is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace.” In an excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation of Feb. 27, 1950, Truman stated:
“Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.”
Bremerton’s Armed Forces Day celebration in 1950 had the slogan, “Teamed for Defense.” C.A. “Buzz” King, general chairman of the Armed Forces Day event, wrote in a typed and mimeographed report to Captain C.O. Humphreys that there were seven speaking engagements and one parade.
King estimated 14,000 people attended the parade, 800 people attended a military ball and 11,750 individuals visited the Bremerton shipyard and shops.
The 1950 Bremerton Armed Forces Day schedule of events included a public judging of baked beans and cornbread contest (won by the U.S. Naval barracks) at the shipyard cafeteria, formations of navy aircraft from Whidbey Island flying over Bremerton and a public military ball at the Bremerton Civic Center from 9 p.m. to midnight.
While still maintaining the tradition of the parade, Bremerton has incorporated additional events, such as an annual golf tournament, a pancake breakfast and a free barbecue for active duty, reserves and veterans.
Parade attendance is two or three people deep along the entire parade route. This year’s parade route is much the same as last year’s, except the staging area has changed locations, according to Wales. A complete parade route map is included in this section. The parade starts at Sixth and Chester and runs along Sixth Street, to Park Avenue, to Fourth Street, to Pacific Avenue ending at Eight Street and Pacific Avenue.
Expected again this year will be some vendors along the sidewalks on Fifth Street, including parade souvenirs and arts and crafts.
The A section of the parade will have many local military dignitaries in restored military vehicles driven by members of the West Sound Military Vehicles Collector’s Club. Classic cars and the Shriner’s clowns will also be in the parade. The parade is expected to last about an hour.
The parade is sponsored and planned by the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce and the Bremerton Central Lions Club.
Leslie Kelly is special sections editor for Sound Publishing’s Kitsap News Group.
This story originally appeared in the Armed Forces 2017 Festival Guide, a special section published on May 19 in the Bainbridge Island Review.