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Older vets salute younger generation

Annual parade to feature three grand marshals
By: Don Chaddock Telegraph Managing Editor
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The “old guard” is calling for the “new guard” to take their rightful places in this year’s Veterans Day Parade in Folsom. According to Ron Hawn, 71, with the American Legion, the older veterans are reaching out to those from more recent conflicts. Hawn served in the U.S. Air Force from 1958-1962. “We’re trying to connect with those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Hawn said. “It’s their parade. We’re honoring them. If you remember back in Vietnam, returning servicemen said they were spit at and we’re trying to put the newer returning veterans up front to tell them we appreciate their service.” According to Hawn, the parade has been going on for 11 years. “A big driver behind this is Vice Mayor Ernie Sheldon (a retired Air Force colonel). He’s in the background, which is probably what he wants,” Hawn said. Hawn said World War II and Korean War veteran Wayne Spence, who started the parade in 2000 in Folsom as a one-man parade walking down Natoma Street handing out flags, is owed a debt of gratitude. Spence passed away and the parade was renamed in his honor in 2009. “And look at the parade today,” he said. “It’s incredible that he started by himself.” This year’s parade will include many community floats as well as some icons. “We’ll have the Wells Fargo Stagecoach,” Hawn said. “T-38 trainer planes from Beale Air Force Base will fly over at about 9:30 a.m.” Hawn said it’s important to recognize the younger veterans. “They’ll be keeping these veterans organizations going and we’re here to support them,” he said. “We have a service officer at the post, Mike Slater, who can help them with any of their needs. He’s commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. They can just stop by the Veterans Memorial Hall at 1300 Forrest St. in Folsom to speak with him.” Parade organizers have tapped three Folsom residents to serve as grand marshals. “They will be representing all the young men and women, making up the newest generation of warriors,” Hawn said. Chief Warrant Officer III Mike DeCosta, 48, is a medical-evacuation helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army who returned from Afghanistan last year. He’s still active in the military. “I got home in November of 2010, so I’ve been home about a year now,” he said. “I came in the military at 18. My dad was in the service. I have been serving since 1981, so 30 years.” DeCosta is in the National Guard and was shipped to Afghanistan in March 2010. In September of that year, he was medically evacuated. “I had a knee, back and arm injury,” he said. “It happened during training, not in combat.” He said the toughest part about being in Afghanistan was the uncertainty about his family’s care. “The most challenging part was being away from the family and my kids and trusting that things are being done that you used to take care of and that everyone is being looked after,” he said. This wasn’t his first time in a hot zone. He was also deployed to Bosnia in 1997 and 1998. DeCosta said he’s touched to be named one of the grand marshals. “I think it is absolutely an honor. I can’t believe I got the call,” he said. “I’ve seen the parade just about every year since I’ve lived in Folsom.” DeCosta lived at Mather Air Force Base and attended Folsom High School. He graduated in 1981, when he enlisted in the military. He returned to Folsom in 1995. He said he’s impressed by some of the older veterans reaching out to the newer generation. “I think it’s great. Some of the older veterans don’t quite get the recognition we get today (for their service). I think we need to reach out more to our Vietnam veterans and even World War II veterans,” DeCosta said. “Vietnam veterans are some of the forgotten veterans. My dad told me stories of what happened to them when they came home. I mean, people threw tomatoes and shouted ‘baby killer’ at them. To have endured what they did over in Vietnam and then come home to a country they love to be treated like that, I think it’s time we did reach out to them more.” Other marshals include Kristen Romani, 33, who was with the U.S. Air Force for 11 years, and Calder “Max” Serba, 24, a corporal in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan. “I served from Feb. 2008 to June 2011,” Serba said. “I served one combat tour in Afghanistan from January 2010 to January 2011. I’m originally from Eagle, Colo. I now live in Folsom with my fiancé and her daughter.” Serba said it was difficult being overseas. “The hardest part would be the long period of separation from your loved ones and the amount of things that goes on in just one day over there,” Serba said. “You can’t talk about them at home and the general public doesn’t realize these young men and women are doing their best to come home in one piece. I was under enemy fire multiple times. I did lose friends over there.” He’s looking forward to getting involved in veterans groups. “I think it’s great (that older veterans are reaching out) and it’s absolutely necessary. You’re talking about these guys who’ve been doing good work in the community for so long,” he said. “The work they’ve done to restore the good standing of veterans.” Serba said circumstances are different now for veterans returning home. “The veterans who came home from Vietnam didn’t have the support from the community or the resources we do as younger veterans today,” Serba said. “This is due in large part to the older veterans who laid the groundwork. These posts, they do so much good for the community. It is imperative younger veterans like myself pick up the where they left off because they’ve been shouldering the burden for so long.” Romani was a staff sergeant by she got out of the military in Oct. 2008. “I was generally stationed in the Middle East,” Romani said. “I think being away from home and in a different culture was the most difficult. Also, we worked long hours.” Romani graduated from Folsom High in 1996. She currently volunteers at the veterans hall and just finished massage therapy school. “I miss being in the military,” Romani said. “I miss the people and the relationships.” She said integrating back into the civilian word has been challenging. “Without the support of my family and friends, it would be really hard to get back into civilian life,” she said. “With the economy and everything, it’s been hard finding a solid job.” Romani said the help provided by the older veterans has been immeasurable. “I find it’s amazing. The support is unbelievable,” she said. “The people I met after getting out of the military, who are veterans themselves, it’s amazing how much they help and assist us (with) benefits and other issues.” * * * Wayne Spence Memorial Veterans Day Parade When: 9 a.m., Nov. 11 Where: Starts at Target parking lot on E. Bidwell Street, turns right on Coloma, turns right on Natoma Street, ending at Folsom City Lions Park near Community Center. Judging stand located near end. Street closures: Rolling closures beginning at 8 a.m. on E. Bidwell Street. As parade progresses, streets behind will open.