EL TORO AIR SHOW : Parade In Step With Patriotism


Signs tell about it with an exclamation point: "Operation Orange CountyVictory Parade!"

And according to Gaddi H. Vasquez, the name itself is exciting--and well deserving of an exclamation point.

"People are excited," said Vasquez, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. "They're looking forward to thanking our troops for a great job, well done. Americans are feeling a great deal of pride these days."

The Victory Parade!--which was conceived by Vasquez--is the county's official salute to military troops who, says the supervisors, "contributed to the courageous victory in the Persian Gulf War," The 1 1/2-hour parade will be held along Alton Parkway in Irvine on May 18, starting at 11 a.m.

The parade will start at the intersection of Alton Parkway and Irvine Boulevard and conclude at Jeronimo Road--a distance of about 1 1/3 miles.

The parade route is next to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, the largest military base in Orange County.

"We sort of see this as Orange County's equivalent of a ticker-tape parade in New York City," said Col. Alex Lancaster, logistics officer at El Toro. Lancaster is handling the base's coordination for the parade. About 8,000 Marines from the bases at El Toro and Tustin served in the Persian Gulf War.

The parade will be a big show--about 3,000 military troops and about 2,000 civilians will participate. The civilians will perform in non-military bands, help carry huge balloons or ride on Victory Parade! floats.

There will be a total of 24 military and high school marching bands, seven floats and an assortment of huge, helium-filled balloons similar to those used during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The giant balloons will depict the Liberty Bell, Yankee Doodle Dandy, the Stars and Stripes and a logo for the parade itself.

The parade will also feature military equipment that helped win the Persian Gulf War. There will be 16 motorized military units, including M-60 tanks, missile units and amphibious assault vehicles.

As the military vehicles roll along the parade route, Marine planes from El Toro will be flying overhead.

"The flyover will be near the parade, and it will have both jets and helicopters," Lancaster said.

In addition to aircraft, there will be a display of "dazzling daytime fireworks" in the sky over the parade, according to officials.

Thanks to lucky timing, the parade will also feature a crack British unit that saw duty in the Gulf War. That unit is the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards 55-member band. The band is famous for its stirring bagpipes-and-drums martial music.

Lancaster said the Royal Scots were already scheduled to come to Orange County for a performance later in May at "highland games" celebrating Americans of Scottish ancestry. Lancaster said that after the County Board of Supervisors came up with the Victory Parade! proposal, the El Toro base invited the Royal Scots to revise their itinerary.

"We told them, 'As long as you're coming, come a bit earlier and be in the parade,' " Lancaster said. "They agreed, and now they'll be in it. We've had these lads visit our base before when they came to Orange County."

Vasquez said the British group will, in effect, be representing all the other Allied nations that took part in Operation Desert Storm.

Thirty Orange County businesses are underwriting the costs of the parade. The overall sponsors are the county and the city of Irvine, the host community. Any leftover money raised for the parade will go to a military relief fund.

"The spirit of selfless generosity has been wonderful," Vasquez said. "I am thrilled that so many people have quickly stepped forward, offering their assistance and resources. Not only will Orange County have a wonderful parade honoring our military, but the excess proceeds raised will contribute to the long-term benefit of our military families as well."

No elected officials or other politicians will be in the parade. The focus is to be on the armed forces, Vasquez said. The highest ranking military person now scheduled to be in the parade is Maj. Gen. Royal N. Moore Jr., commanding officer of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at El Toro. No parade grand marshal has been named.

Thousands of Orange County residents are expected to line the parade route.

The Orange County Transit District board has voted to give military personnel free rides on its buses all day on May 18. The free rides will be given automatically to military personnel in uniform; those in civilian clothes must show a military identification card. Each military person also can bring one free guest on the bus trip, the district said. The free bus rides are available on all routes on May 18.

The Alton Parkway parade route is a pleasantly landscaped area southeast of the sprawling El Toro Marine base. The stretch is lined on both sides by modern business buildings set in park-like clusters. Off-street parking is available, but parade officials warn that the lots will fill up fast and that many motorists may have to park several blocks away from Alton Parkway. Parade officials urge spectators to car-pool.

"I think people will want to plan to come early to the parade route," Vasquez said. "We're encouraging them to be early. We hope they'll bring flags and other symbols to show their support for these troops."

Vasquez said that county officials already are getting indications that thousands of residents will be on hand to cheer the troops. "Everybody seems to think this is a great thing, and they can hardly wait for the parade day to arrive," Vasquez said.

Lancaster added that the military participants are also excited about the parade.

"I'm hearing our military people say, 'Hey, this is our welcome-home parade,' " Lancaster said. "I think you'll find that our troops are doggone glad to be in that parade, and they're grateful for it."

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