Alice Solis has helped decorate a lot of floats over the last five years out of an abandoned Cadillac dealer garage in Santa Ana, but this week seems different.
"There's just a more serious feeling to it," the Santa Ana woman said. "At holiday time, it's always fun and upbeat (to help put together parade floats), but now you see a different attitude, with the eagles and the American flags. It's our way of saying thank you."
Solis is helping organize about 100 volunteers in what she called a "crazy" week of readying eight floats for display at this Saturday's Operation Orange County Victory Parade.
Some are calling this the mother of all Orange County victory celebrations.
Since U.S. troops began returning by the thousands to Orange County from the Persian Gulf in mid-March, there have been a slew of welcome-home celebrations, both formal and informal--from churches and local taverns to parks and even Anaheim Stadium. But this Saturday's event, coordinated by local and county officials, civic leaders, and military officials at Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, promises to dwarf its predecessors.
Organizers are billing this as one of the largest gatherings of military units on the West Coast as part of a nationwide Armed Forces Day. They expect as many as 500,000 onlookers to line the parade route, next to the El Toro base.
Eagles and drums, globes and flags, astronauts and military aircraft, and of course, thousands of flowers--all will be on colorful display in the parade's eight floats.
But the floats will be just a part of the 2.5- mile-long procession, winding its way down Irvine Boulevard and Alton Parkway beginning at 11 a.m.
The 90-minute event is also scheduled to include fireworks, a military flyover, high-flying helium balloons in the likeness of the Liberty Bell and the Stars and Stripes, some two dozen military and high-school marching bands, and a dozen motorized units that will include M-60 tanks, artillery units and a Patriot missile launcher.
On hand as well will be several visiting groups, including the 55-member Royal Scots Dragoon Guards from Britain, the so-called "Desert Rats" who have built a strong following with stirring bagpipe and drum martial music.
Also represented will be the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
In all, organizers expect some 4,500 participants, including 3,000 troops and their families.
"The hectic time was really the last couple of weeks of planning and making sure nothing fell through the cracks," said Sara Schantz, an aide to Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, who has helped put together the event.
"Now, it's just a matter of following through," she added. "I think it's going to be a great event."
What: "Operation Orange County Victory Parade," the county's official welcome-home celebration for U.S. personnel who served in the Persian Gulf.
When: Saturday, May 18 (National Armed Forces Day), at 11 a.m. The parade will last about 90 minutes.
Where: The 2.5-mile parade route, next to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, runs from Irvine Boulevard, heading down Alton Parkway and ending at Jeronimo Road.
Whereabouts: From the north: Take the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to Jamboree, Culver, Jeffrey or Sand Canyon exits. Any of these roads can be taken to Irvine Boulevard. Go south to MCAS El Toro Gate 2. From the south: Santa Ana Freeway to Sand Canyon, east to Irvine Boulevard, south to Gate 2.
Wherewithal: The parade is free.
Where to call: (714) 834-2855.
Operation Orange County Victory Parade
Highlights for this Saturday's Operation Orange County Victory Parade:
* Some 4,500 participants in all, including 3,000 military troops and their families.
* The 55-member Royal Scots Dragoon Guards from Britain, an elite band of bagpipers and drummers popularly known as the "Desert Rats," in one of the three U.S. post-war appearances.
* A dozen motorized military units, including M-60 tanks, artillery units and a Patriot missile battery.
* Fireworks, two dozen military and high-school bands, sculpted floats, a military fly-over by fighter jets in formation, the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard, and other attractions.