With a strong, steady grip, 90-year-old Elmer Otto shook the hands of everyone who came up to greet him Sunday afternoon.
He smiled and waved to all those sitting or standing along the sides of the street.
“It feels wonderful,” he said of getting to participate in Seymour’s V-J Day Parade. “It just feels wonderful to be alive.”
Otto had the distinction along with 13 other local veterans of serving as parade marshals in the 70th annual V-J Day parade.
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The event is a longstanding tradition in the community with hundreds of people lining the parade route along West Second, Walnut and Fifth streets, to show their support.
V-J stands for Victory over Japan, and V-J Day is conducted in recognition of the end of World War II when Japan formally surrendered to the U.S. aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
All 14 marshals in this year’s parade were World War II veterans, the youngest of whom were 85 and the oldest being in their mid- to upper 90s.
Otto served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, later the U.S. Air Force, for 21 years.
“I was a tailgunner on B25s during the war,” he said. “I got out of there without a scratch. I was luckier than most.”
Although he doesn’t consider himself a hero, he said seeing others pay their respects to veterans by coming out to see the parade is worth it.
“It makes me feel like it wasn’t all in vain,” he said of his service. “There was a job to be done, and we answered the call.”
Besides the grand marshals, there were many other military-related entries in the parade, including Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925’s tribute to the flag raising at Iwo Jima, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925’s Ladies Auxiliary float to honor women of the war, Freeman Army Airfield Museum, American Legion Post 89 Color Guard and the U.S. Submarine Veterans Hoosier Base.
Also participating were local law enforcement and fire departments, Seymour High School’s Marching Owls, Bartholomew County and North Vernon Rolling Hills Smoke Patrol Shrine clubs and the Jennings County High School Color Guard.
Seth Hulse of Seymour and leader of the JCHS color guard, told his students to remember the day.
The students shook the hands of each of the WWII veterans and thanked them for all they had done.
“This was a good day, you got to meet true American heroes,” Hulse said. “They don’t wear a cape, or sing and dance on TV or dress up and act like someone else. Their bravery was shown when someone was trying to kill them while they were out fighting to protect others. To me, that’s the highest level of bravery.”
Hulse said V-J Day should always be remembered and honored in Seymour and across the U.S.
“It’s a fact that it happened. Are we just going to forget that? No,” he said. “We were attacked and threatened and forced into a war that we didn’t start and didn’t want to be a part of.”
Keeping the name V-J isn’t a show of disrespect to the Japanese or anyone else, he added.
“Someone had to win the war,” he said.
This was Leslie Skinner’s first year to help with the VFW’s Ladies Auxiliary float which was decorated with red, white and blue balloons and paid tribute to the role of women during the war. On the back of the float was a sign that read “All gave some, and some gave all.”
Skinner said her dad served in Vietnam, and she wanted to do more to honor him and others in the military. That’s why she wanted to get involved with the auxiliary.
“It raises awareness and support for our veterans,” she said of the parade.
With bandannas over their hair and their arms curled up to show their muscles, the women were dressed to resemble Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon representing the American women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II.
“Back in WWII these women took over the men’s jobs,” Skinner said.
June Arthur of Seymour has been a member of the auxiliary for the past six years.
“My significant other was a marine and my father was in the military,” Arthur said. “I was in the Army reserves and the National Guard.”
Although the parade is called V-J Day, Arthur said it’s more about honoring all veterans and showing patriotism.
She said she was surprised by the number of World War II veterans that showed up to participate in the parade.
“There’s not many left,” she said. “But oh the stories they can tell, and we need to listen to them before they are gone.”
Cliff “Kip” Sierp, 95, of Seymour, said he’s been to all the V-J Day parades, but this was his first time being in it.
“I’m just thankful I can be here with these guys,” he said before the parade got started. “It makes me feel honored, and I think it’s a good idea to have something like this.”
Sierp served in the U.S. Navy for four years from 1942-46.
Nancy Eldridge said it made her heart soar that her dad, Robert Ellis, 89, of Seymour, could be in the parade too.
“He comes to the parade every year, but he’s never participated before,” he said.
Ellis also served in the navy during the war on a support ship at the age of 17.
“He was a little apprehensive because he didn’t know what to expect,” Eldridge said of the parade. “But when I told him all he had to do is smile and wave, he said he could probably do that.”
Cindy Juarez-Rios of North Vernon got to the parade early to get good seats. Her son was part of the Jennings County High School Color Guard. Her other son, who sat beside her leaves next month for boot camp to become a U.S. Marine.
“I come from a long line of military service,” she said. “My grandfather was a prisoner of war in WWII, so veterans are dear to my heart.”
Juarez-Rios made a point to shake the hands of all the WWII veterans and thank them.
“I’m just in awe of what they did for all of us,” she said. “They don’t know me, but they sacrificed so much for the country I live in. They are real life heroes.”
Juarez-Rios and her family just moved to North Vernon, and this was her first time attending the parade.
“But you can better believe now that I know about it, we will be back next year,” she said.