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 has attended Bremerton’s Armed Forces Day parades in the past knows Burke Waldron.
He’s the “aging” U.S. Navy veteran in his dress whites, walking the entire distance of the parade.
And he’ll do it again this year.
But this year, Waldron, who is 92, will be walking with the Puget Sound Honor Flight float.
Puget Sound Honor Flight is part of a national nonprofit network created to honor America’s veterans. Its mission: “To transport the nation’s heroes on ‘One Last Mission,’ a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials built in their honor.”
Waldron, a World War II veteran, made his honor flight two years ago.
And because of that, Stephen Talkington, who also is a retired Navy veteran, arranged for Waldron to walk alongside the Honor Flight float in this year’s parade. Talkington, of Bremerton, is active in the Puget Sound Honor Flight organization.
The float, which will include a decorated boat being pulled along the route, will feature Renee Peavey, the state’s Honor Flight director.
Waldron, who served in the Navy from 1943-46, has marched in 16 Armed Forces Day parades in Bremerton.
“It’s a big deal,” Waldron said. “I dress in my whites and fall in somewhere along the parade route and just go with it. It’s quite an honor to represent all those who didn’t come home.”
Waldron grew up in Utah, east of Salt Lake. After high school, all his buddies were being drafted. But he never got the call. So he went to ask why and found that they’d lost his draft registration.
“The guy said, ‘Report to Fort Douglas tomorrow morning at eight o’clock,’ ” Waldron said. “I went to the Federal Building and joined the Navy, because my father had been in the Army in the trenches in World War I and I didn’t want that.”
He completed his basic training, went to service school for general tests and, “because I was a bad speller, they assigned me to signal school at the University of Chicago,” Waldron said.
That was almost luxury compared to what he would see later in his military service. In Chicago, he stayed in a gymnasium that had been converted to barracks and he ate in the school’s cafeteria.
“Because we were in the service, they waited on us,” he said. “We were served our food.”
And liberty was in the city, where “everything was given to us for free,” he said.
Following that he was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, where he became part of the armed guard and was assigned to a ship.
“I had one day’s training on how to hold a rifle,” he said. “And then we were off to Pearl Harbor.”
From there he was on a troop ship as part of the invasion of Makin Islands, southwest of Hawaii.
He and his fellow sailors established a command post where they could intercept transmissions from the Japanese troops. He also was part of the Sipan Invasion as part of GROPAC (Ground Forces of the Pacific) No. 8.
“That was the scariest thing I ever had to do,” he said of getting off the ship by jumping down cargo nets into boats occupied by U.S. Marines. “We were in full gear with our equipment and we just had to close our eyes and jump.”
VE Day came after that in July of 1945. He was sent to Shoemaker, California to serve out his time until he could be discharged.
“I never had any leave in three years,” he said. “The only time off I had was a liberty in Chicago and one at Pearl Harbor. A bunch of us planned to go ashore because there was a rodeo in Honolulu. But everybody got food poisoning from something they served us, except me. So I went by myself.
“As I was sitting in the hot sun watching the rodeo, it hit me. I got real sick. So I left and tried to walk back to the ship. But I was stumbling around so much that I got arrested as a drunk.”
He tried to explain, and finally the police called his commander and he was allowed to go home.
“From then, on we called the chow station ‘Tomain Taverns,’ ” he said.
Waldron said he had a lot of really good friendships from his Navy service. When he was discharged, he returned to Garfield, Utah, married and had five children.
Sixteen years ago, he moved from Utah to the Pacific Northwest. He became a general contractor and owns his own business. And still, at 92, he’s up at 5:30 a.m. to exercise on a miniature trampoline in his living room while he watches the morning news. And then, he heads off to a job site. Currently, he has a deck he’s re-doing and a some windows to replace.
“I was so busy all these years taking care of my family and my own house that I never paid myself,” he said. “I never got to retire.”
His wife, Taye, died in 2010. His five children three in Utah, one in Nevada and one in Hawaii, visit often. He also has 17 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Taking his Honor Flight in 2014 was a special moment for him.
“We saw everything,” he said. “We were treated so well.”
And when Waldron returned home, he celebrated his 90th birthday in style the following week.
“I went sky-diving with a friend from my church,” he said.
Waldron’s been offered a spot to ride in a military vehicle in the parade, but he told then “No.
“I’m an old guy, but I can walk,” he said.
And the best part about being the parades, other than honoring those who didn’t return from war, is the special attention.
“Sometimes the girls along the route will step out and give me a kiss,” he said.
To learn more about the Puget Sound Honor Flight, go to www.PugetSoundHonorFlight.org. The group takes four flights a year from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, two in the spring and two in the fall.
Each flight has up to 55 veterans and their escorts. The most recent returned home May 9.