Veterans Day celebration coming to Big Rapids

BIG RAPIDS — Local officials say there hasn’t been a Veterans Day parade in Big Rapids for at least 15 years — and there’s something about that that isn’t right.

That’s why local veterans groups, together with business groups and schools in Big Rapids, are collaborating to organize a three-day event, from Nov. 9-11, to celebrate the community’s military heroes.

“We get a lot of calls at the chamber, people asking about parades, and we never really have anything to tell them, other than what the service organizations are doing. We thought, it’s time,” Mecosta County Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Heinzman, said Friday. “We need to show support and appreciation for what these people have done for us. It’s going to be a great thing for this community.”

This year’s event will kick off at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 9, with a lunchtime celebration at the Mecosta County Commission on Aging and Activity Center. Veterans will eat for free, and enjoy a program, guest speaker and other entertainment options. Those interested are encouraged to call (231) 972-2884 for more information.

The day’s activities will continue with a flourish, as organizers have arranged for a Black Hawk helicopter — which has been used by the U.S. Army in a number of different conflicts — to make a landing at Big Rapids Middle School at 6 p.m. John Duvall, who is helping put together the event, said it should be a memorable learning experience for the students who see it, and a point of pride for the community on a whole.

“Those helicopters are absolutely amazing. The firepower they have is unbelievable. So, to see it up close, and realize that this is a real thing that real people in their community have used to protect our country, makes you feel good,” said Duvall, a U.S. Navy veteran who works as senior vice president of Lake-Osceola State Bank.

Saturday’s slate of events includes a parade, starting at 11 a.m. in downtown Big Rapids. The route will be on Michigan Avenue from the Big Rapids Public Library to City Hall. Duvall said upwards of 500 participants have already signed up to be a part of it.

Organizers are seeking nominees to serve as the grand marshal of the parade. Those who are interested in nominating a local veteran for the honor are encouraged to call Duvall at (231) 301-4682, or email jduvall@losb.com.

“We have a really good turnout planned for this. The veterans organizations have responded to this really well. We have active military units coming in, and people will bringing in floats and banners. We’re trying to get high school bands involved, and we’re not done yet,” Duvall said. “Really, the big thing now is to get the word out and get a grand marshal.”

At 1 p.m., the Michigan Vietnam Veteran Traveling Memorial will be on display at AmVets Post No. 1941 and the American Legion Post 98 in Big Rapids. The 28-foot-long Corian wall, similar to the memorial in Washington, D.C., contains the names of the 2,600 Vietnam War veterans from Michigan who were killed in action.

“The main purpose of that wall is to remember all of fallen from Vietnam. It’s almost more of a healing aspect for our Vietnam veterans. We have veterans who have never been to the memorial in Washington, D.C., because they just can’t bring themselves to travel there. So, when we bring it to them, you can’t imagine the emotions they deal with,” Duvall said.

The Veterans Day festivities conclude Sunday, with a breakfast at the AmVets Post in Big Rapids from 9 a.m. to noon (no charge, but donations are appreciated) and a ceremony at Holland Park at 11 a.m.

Duvall, who is president of the AmVets Post in Big Rapids, said he and his family used to travel to Detroit to participate in large scale Veterans Day celebrations. Now, they are relieved they no longer have to make the long drive to say thanks.

“The time you get to spend with your fellow vets — the camaraderie that is there is one thing, but it can be a very healing feeling for most vets,” Duvall said. “Some of them feel withdrawal, especially the ones who have been in conflicts. For them to spend the day with fellow vets, share stories and talk about their service, you can’t put words to that feeling.”

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