Sept. 11 parade to honor Merced's first responders

Almost 10 years ago, Americans were stunned when two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, and another plane slammed into the Pentagon.

Thousands of lives were lost that day, including hundreds of first responders -- the firefighters, police and ambulance personnel who ran toward the collapsing buildings while everyone else was running away.

On Sept. 11, Mercedians will be able to pay their respects to local first responders, who will be honored in a parade down Main Street.

Bill Baker, a member of the American Legion Riders, a motorcycle group of veterans affiliated with Post 83 in Merced, said the riders decided this year to do something to remember Sept. 11. "I'm an Air Force veteran," Baker said. "I served from 1971 to 1976. I'm a motorcycle enthusiast and wanted to be part of the riders group."

This year's parade, which Baker hopes will become an annual event, will remember the horror of Sept. 11, and also honor first responders. "We want people to remember and never forget what happened," Baker said. "We also want to pay tribute to the first responders, here in Merced and those who perished on that day."

Baker said the police, fire and ambulance personnel in the county are trained to deal with almost any incident, and he wants people to know local first responders are just as capable and willing and committed as any. "If anything like 9/11 should ever happen here, heaven forbid, our first responders would be ready -- they're truly dedicated," Baker said.

The parade will be open for the community to enter, Baker said, but entries must stick to the patriotic theme.

The parade will start at 10 a.m. at G and Main streets, and will proceed down Main to P Street.

"All of the first responders are pretty excited about this," Baker said. "At the end of the parade, the fire department will be raising flags and bagpipes will play 'Amazing Grace.' "

After the bagpipes, flags will be lowered to half-staff, taps will be played and then guest speaker Mike Anderson, a Gold Star father whose son was killed in Iraq, will speak. Singer Rachel River will perform about a dozen patriotic songs, and the American Legion will hold an open house. A no-host lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs will be available.

Baker said when he came back after serving in the 1970s, he was told not to wear his uniform in public because of the way people felt about Vietnam veterans.

"I want our vets serving now to know that will never happen again," Baker said. "These soldiers are appreciated and welcome, and we want them to know that."

People interested in entering the parade can get more information by calling (209) 385-6891.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.