VAIL — It’s time for Jack Chain to see if his old uniform still fits.
Chain, who retired in 1991 as a four-star general in the U.S. Air Force, is a little shorter than in his service days — time will do that — but remains fit and eager for the action at the Vail America Days Parade on Friday.
Chain will lead a group of veterans to start off the parade.
The veterans have led the parade for years. Some march. Others ride in military-surplus Jeeps rounded up by Buddy Sims, another Air Force veteran who’s long been active in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter.
Pete Thompson, an Army guy, is the current president of the chapter, but at a recent lunch with Sims and Chain, Thompson was quick to give others credit for the annual event. Sims and fellow veteran Pat Hammon are the ones who generally gather the vets together for this day.
Chain has had a home in the valley for but hadn’t yet joined the parade group.
That changed after an email last year from Sims.
Veterans from World War II and the Korean War are getting harder to find — time is the only march that’s never been stopped — and the group of mostly-retired veterans at lunch this day all saw duty in Vietnam.
Chain was a pilot and forward-control officer. Thompson was on the ground. Chain was still somewhat surprised when Thompson talked about the difficulty of getting air support when he needed it.
Chain also told stories of how he got into the action and post-Vietnam work with higher-ups including former Secretary of State George Shultz.
SHOWING OUR APPRECIATION
And, he said, he’s looking forward to leading the parade. He believes every citizen should have at least a little knowledge and appreciation for the job the military does on our behalf.
“You don’t have to join to be proud of them,” he said.
Sims said the Fourth of July event does a few things.
First, it gives people at the parade a quick history lesson.
“The kids are just awe-struck” by the sight of the veterans, Thompson said.
More important, though, the parade gives some veterans a chance to hear a long round of applause in thanks for their service.
That applause has been hard to come by for Vietnam-era veterans. That war deeply divided the country, and, as the war itself became more and more unpopular, many veterans paid the price, in reactions from indifference to outright scorn.
Because of that, Sims said it’s been hard to get many Vietnam-era vets to come to the parade. For those who do come, though, Sims said the effect can be profound.
“It’s been a life-changing experience for a lot of them,” he said.
The Vail parade — followed by a post-parade barbecue — is also a chance for the local VFW chapter to recruit new members.
And, Sims said, anyone who’s ever worn the country’s uniform is welcome to join the group Friday.
“Come as you are; we’d love to have you,” Sims said.