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.
Don’t leave the 2016 Armed Forces Day Parade early or you’ll miss the motorcycles.
As in past years, the Combat Veterans International Chapter 5 motorcycle group is the last entry in the parade.
“We like our spot,” said Dave “Pancho” DeAlba, vice president of the chapter. “It’s like we’re going out in style.”
DeAlba said the group, which numbers about 20 active members, rides to honor veterans and active military members.
“Most of us served in Vietnam and we want to make sure that veterans get honored and aren’t treated the way we were when we came home.”
DeAlba referred to the way Vietnam veterans were treated after the war. Many were spit on when they arrived back in the U.S. They were told not to wear their uniforms on the way home for their own safety.
When it comes to the May 21 parade, DeAlba thinks there may be as many as 40 motorcycles riding with them.
“We bring up the rear,” he said. “But all throughout the route, we’ll get off our bikes and go over and shake hands with any veterans we see in the crowd. Especially the older ones who wear their (veterans group’s) caps.”
And the group stops and gets off their bikes at the stage where the military officers view the parade.
“We dismount, stand in cadence, salute them, and then get back on our bikes and ride on,” he said.
Most of them carry the American Flag and the POW Flag with them attached to their bikes, and even their Combat Veterans International chapter flag.
The chapter formed in 2005 and includes veterans from Kitsap, Mason and Pierce counties. Some members are from Port Orchard and Bremerton. One member, who served in the Iraq war, is a Bronze Star recipient, DeAlba said.
And the group does more than just ride motorcycles.
“We’re here to help all veterans,” DeAlba said. “When we find a veteran who needs help, we help him or her. Recently, we were able to help a veteran with rent money and another veteran, we got him connected to the VA. He had a service-connected disability and didn’t know that. So now he has medical care.”
This year, the group also will fund three $1,000 for military members, their family members or veterans.
“We are a charitable group,” he said. “We set up at stores and events and ask for donations.”
Members ring bells at Christmas for the Salvation Army and they help low income families at Thanksgiving.
But the most important event the chapter does each year it the Unforgotten Run to Tahoma, where they escort the remains of veterans for burial in the Tahoma Cemetery. That happens on Memorial Day Weekend.
“It’s a very touching thing,” DeAlba said of the run. “It brings tears to everybody’s eyes.”
DeAlba, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1970 in Vietnam, has been riding a motorcycle since 1980. He got his road name “Pancho” from the chapter members because his grandfather rode with Pancho Villa.
“Once you are in long enough and get patched, you get your road name,” he said. “We’re just like any other motorcycle club.”
As for why he and many of the others ride, it’s a way to cope.
“It’s a therapeutic thing,” he said. “Many of us have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). When you go out and ride, you are in a different world. It helps you forget.”
For more on the group, or to donate, go to www.combatveterans.com/Chapter5/chapter5.shtml.