Bill Harkness spent nearly two decades in the military. He served in the U.S. Air Force, airlifting soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

Harkness says he has a lot of memories, good and bad, of his time in the service. But even though it has been out of the military since 1989, Harkness said Saturday he was attending his first Veterans Day Parade in Crescent City.

“It means a lot,” Harkness said. “I know a lot of people who went out and fought and some didn’t come back.”

Harkness, who hails from Vass, North Carolina, spent the holiday in Crescent City. As the horses, marching band and local veterans passed by, a young boy made sure to thank Harkness for his service.

“He was just a little boy sitting over here and he came and sat on my lap,” Harkness said.

Harkness noted the day shouldn’t be just about thanking veterans but thanking their spouses.

“They have the hardest time because they have to do whatever has to be done. I think they should get just as much credit as the veterans do,” he said. “The family members, too, we had little kids back then, they didn’t understand why Dad was gone.”

Although the procession lasted only a few minutes, parade-goers broke out in cheers, waved flags and shouted “thank you” to the veterans who marched and rode down the street.

This year, the Veterans Day Parade and Luncheon Committee chose to honor veterans who served in nearly every major conflict since World War II. James Wilson, 92, represented World War II, though he also fought in Korea; Ed Fleshman represented the Korean War; Wayne Cook was the grand marshal representative for the Vietnam War; Chris Thorpe and Adam Trask served during Desert Storm and Del Norte County Veteran Service Officer, Aaron Goodwin, represented the Iraq War.

Rodney Reid, president of the Veterans Day Parade and Luncheon Committee, pointed out that regardless of their age, the grand marshals all fought for their country.

“I’ve always felt when you have one grand marshal to represent, I think you’re cheating the others that serve,” Reid said. “This shows that these people fought for their country and it’s a place of honor for them so people can hail them as heroes, and they are heroes.”

During the luncheon, Goodwin, who is a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army 186th Infantry, said veterans weren’t always treated as heroes. Choosing to join the military following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Goodwin said he is thanked every time people see him in uniform.

But that thanks, Goodwin said, is due to the servicemen and women who fought for their country before he did.

“Has anybody called me a baby killer? Has anybody spit in my face or (on) my uniform? Did anybody ever make me feel ashamed of being in the military,” Goodwin said. “Not even close. I’m very proud. Everybody who was a veteran that came before me allowed that to happen.”

Goodwin also honored Capt. Bruno de Solenni, a member of the Oregon National Guard and a Del Norte County native who was killed at age 32 in Afghanistan.

“That identity of I served, whether I volunteered to serve, whether I joined to serve, doesn’t matter. You are part of this really small group of us that can bear that shield, that can bear that honor,” Goodwin said. “We have a lot of veterans that aren’t here to enjoy that, that aren’t here to get that thank you. It’s those people that can’t be here. It’s them, too.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.

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