61 Years of Armed Forces Day Celebrations unites military, civilians
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
The puppies were yapping, the sirens were blaring, and everywhere you looked there were soldiers, soldiers, and more soldiers, oh, yes, and some civilians. Noel Field inside Fort Bliss, Texas, opened its arms wide to welcome the estimated ten thousand El Pasoans who came down to the annual Armed Forces Day celebration at the Fort.
Along with the people who manned tents and other military equipment, there was Isaac Camacho – autographing copies of his book, Isaac Camacho: An American Hero. Camacho was the first American to escape from a Viet Cong POW camp. His book deals with his successful escape. Other booths were also busy with a variety of activities, such as a water-dunking booth in which members of the U.S. Marine Corps were repeatedly dunked into the water; they came back up all the more refreshed to combat the hot, blazing sun that drenched the vast expanse.
Victor Gonzalez said he’s grateful that the military installation – a fixture in the city practically from El Paso’s inception – allows civilians like himself to visit and to view the countless military weapons that are part of the Fort’s arsenal. “All this military equipment makes me feel safer and more secure,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not scared to see these tanks and missile-firing weapons. I’m glad that we’ve got them, all the better for our own security and that of the world. I thank God for Fort Bliss and its soldiers.”
Gonzalez’ friend, Carmen Gutierrez – they both volunteer at Ysleta High School – said that she loves Armed Forces Day so much that she and Gonzalez have been coming for the past six years. “I love the friendship,” Gutierrez said. “There are people from all walks of life, not just soldiers. We are given a view of something we don’t normally get to see, so that’s great.”
Armed Forces Day became a reality in 1949 when U.S. President Harry Truman designated the third Saturday in May as Armed Forces Day. Later, in 1962, then-President John F. Kennedy made it a national holiday. The Day honors all five branches of the military, including the Marines, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard.
Although the weapons on display looked somewhat menacing, they didn’t seem to faze the thousands of people who were immersed in learning everything they could about each weapon, as it was explained by military experts in uniform. Babies being pushed on carriages, horses being petted by youngsters, and some young folk even climbing aboard the tanks, missile guiding systems, and other awesome displays of power, made the day complete – a day in which both military and civilian can come together in peace and understanding. Of course, these displays were at parade rest and merely there for the curious seekers and those who wanted to learn more about the weapons that are being utilized in the two wars facing the United States – Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I came down here with my friend so that we could see these awesome power, but in a peaceful way,” Gonzalez said. “They’ve got everything here from posters about venomous and non-venomous snakes, chilo Colorado, rappelling, and other activities, and it’s all free. What can be better than that?”