Veterans Day parade and flyover to honor eight grand marshals

Sun-Star Staff

The Merced County Veterans Council, Human Services Agency and the Merced County Chamber of Commerce said they will hold the sixth annual Veterans Day Parade in downtown Merced on Thursday.

All county residents are encouraged to attend the parade and help honor the formal Veterans Day ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Courthouse Park at 11 a.m.; an opening ceremony with speakers and music at Bob Hart Square at noon; and the parade itself at 1 p.m.

The parade starts at Main and G streets, moves west on Main through downtown and ends after turning north on O Street. A jet aircraft flyover is expected at the start of the parade.

Nearly 60 entries are ready for review, and eight local veterans will serve as grand marshals. Each one will be introduced during the opening ceremony at Bob Hart Square.

They include:

1. Alfred Peguero: A U.S. Navy veteran with three years of service during World War II. Seaman Peguero served on the U.S.S. Reno throughout his tour of duty, a light cruiser that saw battle within a few months of entering the war on its first cruise. The Reno supported air strikes against numerous Japanese-held islands in the Pacific and helped repel a large-scale Japanese Navy aircraft carrier task force during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the world's largest carrier vs. carrier battle of all time. In a later battle, after being struck by aerial bombs, the Reno helped fight massive fires on the carrier Princeton and rescue its crewmen. A week later, an enemy torpedo struck the Reno; badly damaged, she returned to the U.S. under her own power for substantial repairs. Once restored to duty, the ship made two trips to France to bring troops back to the U.S. after the war ended. Upon leaving the service, Peguero farmed tomatoes and almonds in Merced County. He lives in Merced and is 87.

2. Don Thomas: A retired U.S. Army sergeant first class with 20 years of active service during the Korean War and peacetime. He entered the Army in 1947 at the age of 15 and served as a rifleman near the Manchurian Border in Korea in battles against Chinese troops. After the war, Sgt. Thomas served as an ordinance gunsmith and small arms maintenance instructor in France and Germany. After retiring in 1967, Thomas was an insurance claims adjuster for the California State Auto Association before becoming a popular journalist for Mid-Valley Publications. He lives in Atwater and is 78.

3. Fernando Garcia, Jr.: A retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer with 20 years of service during peacetime and the global war on terrorism. Chief Garcia served as a chief machinist mate with duty in the Persian Gulf, Japan, Gua, and Bahrain, with prior duty as a Navy recruiter in Merced. Since retiring in 2006, Garcia serves as a correctional officer at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. He lives in Merced and is 42.

4. Donald Tyson: A U.S. Army and Army Reserves staff sergeant with 15 years of service during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. Sergeant Tyson served as a mortarman, cargo specialist and heavy wheel operator with duty in Egypt and Iraq. Tyson left the Army Reserves in 2005, and now serves as a lieutenant at the Atwater Federal Penitentiary. He lives in Merced and is 41.

5. Jason Poynor: An active duty U.S. Air Force staff sergeant with 10 years of service. He served in Iraq before becoming the current Air Force recruiter in Merced. He lives in Merced.

6. Pamela Cole: A U.S. Air Force veteran in the rank of senior airman with three years of service during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terrorism. Her primary duty was in the air transportation field with duty including Iraq. Since leaving active duty in 2005, Cole is studying to be a cosmetologist. She lives in Merced and is 27.

7. Scott Mentz: A U.S. Army veteran in the rank of specialist with three years of military service during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terrorism. His primary duty was in aircraft avionic systems and as a radar repairman on Black Hawk helicopters. His service included duty in Iraq. Since leaving the Army in 2007, Mentz was a welder with Kirby Manufacturing and Modern Air and is attending classes at Merced College. He lives in Atwater and is 26.

8. Alejandro Flores: Grand Marshal Alejandro Flores is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran in the rank of corporal with four years of service during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terrorism. His primary duties included combat engineer, driver and convoy security. His service included duty in Iraq. He lives in Merced.