Fort Bliss community honors 'Protectors of Freedom'
November 19, 2008
The sound of cheers and cries of "Thank you!" filled the air in downtown El Paso as spectators lined the streets to show appreciation for the nation's veterans.
Active-duty Soldiers and representatives of Fort Bliss, veterans' organizations, Army and Navy high school Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs, high school bands and others - more than 60 organizations in all - marched through the streets during El Paso's Veterans Day Parade.
Ramon Rosales, a former Navy Sailor who was once a prisoner of war, served as the parade's marshal.
"It's quite an honor; they caught me by surprise," he said of his selection as marshal. "I work for veterans' groups, but I never expected to be chosen for this.
"I'm very proud," Rosales said of the turnout at the parade. "I love the people of El Paso. I was born here and raised here, so I love each and every one of them because they were worried about me when I was captured. I love the people of El Paso, and I'm proud to be an El Pasoan."
Rosales was taken as a prisoner of war and held for 11 months when his ship, the USS Pueblo, was attack-ed and captured by North Korean forces while on a Jan. 23, 1968, intelligence mission.
Another high-profile veteran marching in the parade, El Paso Mayor John Cook, said he was proud of the way the city supports its veterans.
"El Paso is a big military town, especially now with Fort Bliss expanding, so we've always honored our veterans by having a parade for them," he said. "El Paso ... has always been distinguished by honoring its veterans. This is one of our favorite parades of the year.
"I see a lot of guys I served with in Vietnam here," Cook continued. "We have World War II veterans, Korean War veterans, now we have Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans. ... I'm proud to be a veteran and I'm proud to be marching with some of our vets."
Brig. Gen. Robert Woods, commander of 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, took part in the parade as a representative of Fort Bliss and the area's active-duty Soldiers.
"This is a great opportunity for all members of Fort Bliss to be out here today," he said as the parade participants formed up in the staging area. "There's a big crowd already here this morning, and we're looking forward to the parade.
"El Paso is very supportive of the military in the community here, there's no doubt about that," Woods added. "Even today, as we are preparing for the execution of the parade, there's a lot of great support, a lot of great dialogue with the citizens along the sidewalk. This is a high-five moment for El Paso and Fort Bliss. ... I am honored to be able to be a representative of Fort Bliss, and I proudly represent everyone at Team Bliss."
John Ceballos, chapter chairman of the Roy P. Benavidez-Patterson "All Airborne" Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association, echoed Woods' feeling of pride in being part of the parade.
"It's a celebration of honoring veterans, ... and it's a chance for us to get together and say thanks one more time for a job well done, not only for ourselves, our members of the chapter, but for the entire veteran community," he said.
"El Paso is a good veterans city. It's a good military city ... and there's a lot of pride in our military and our veteran population," he continued. "We're proud of the way we're supported. It's a lot different from the days of Vietnam, when veterans weren't really welcome. It's a nice change. People come up nowadays and they say thank you. ... It's always appreciated."