This story originally appeared in the Armed Forces 2016 Festival Guide, published May 20, 2016.
The 68th annual Armed Forces Day Parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 21 in Bremerton.
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 Forces Day each year.
Bremerton will celebrate its 68th annual Armed Forces Day on May 21 with a parade, pancake breakfast, barbecue luncheon and a host of festive activities honoring our veterans, active duty and reserve personnel.
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. Free hot dogs, chips and soda are served to all active-duty, reserve, retired and veteran service personnel.
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.
This year’s parade grand marshal is Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He was appointed to the position on May 27, 2015. He is the 35th commander since the fleet was established in February 1941, with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Swift attended San Diego State University and received his commission in 1979 through the Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate program. He received his master’s degree from the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.
His operational assignments include Attack Squadron (VA) 94; VA-97; Carrier Air Wing 11 staff; commander, Strike Fighter Attack Squadron 97; commander, Carrier Air Wing 14; deputy commander, Naval Forces, U.S. Central Command; commander, Carrier Strike Group 9; and commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. During those tours he participated in combat Operations Praying Mantis, Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
His shore tour assignments include VA-122; Naval War College; commander of Strike Fighter Weapons School, Pacific; F/A-18 requirements officer, OPNAV; commander, VFA-122; officer of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics staff; and director of operations, U.S. Pacific Command.
Prior to assuming command at U.S. Pacific Fleet, he was assigned to the Pentagon as the director, Navy Staff.
The parade is sponsored and planned by the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce and the Bremerton Central Lions Club.
Bremerton Chamber Executive Director Gena Wales said she anticipates 147 entries, including 16 marching bands, in this year’s parade.
Bremerton started the parade in 1948 to honor John “Bud” Hawk, who died in November 2013. 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 Washington State Capitol in Olympia.
Hawk, who taught fifth and sixth grades in Kitsap County beginning in 1952, started his teaching career at Tracyton Elementary School. In addition to his Medal of Honor, Hawk was the recipient of four Purple Hearts and a Distinguished Conduct Medal from the United Kingdom. He also has an elementary school in Silverdale 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 Harry S 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, chairman of that year’s event, wrote in a typed and mimeographed report to Capt. C.O. Humphreys that an 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 a cornbread contest (won by the U.S. Navy 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 and reserve personnel 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 continues 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 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 Shriners clowns will also be in the parade. Come early and have breakfast. At the Lions pancake breakfast, which begins at 7 a.m., more than 1,200 eggs and 1,200 sausages are expected to be served.