World War II Navy seaman Danny Soria will lead Pleasanton's 17th annual Veterans Day Parade on Main Street today, a parade that will honor all veterans and those on active duty in Afghanistan and at other global locations.
Soria, a still robust active veteran and one of only a few remaining who served in World War II, will lead more than 125 units registered for the parade. It will start at 1 p.m. and conclude with an indoor ceremony in the Veterans Memorial Building.
The parade, with the theme this year of "All gave some, Some gave all," is sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Pleasanton Post 6298, and the American Legion's Pleasanton Post 237.
Soria, a Navy radarman, served in the Pacific from 1943-1945, going ashore with advance landing units to post and operate secretive radar units. He recalls landing on an outer island in the Admiralty Islands group when his unit heard on the radio about the Allies landing on the Normandy beaches June 6, 1944. The Admiralty battles went almost unnoticed by the American press, he added.
Soria joined both the VFW and American Legion after he was discharged and returned to Pleasanton. At one time, he served as commander of the VFW post and for years marched in the VFW and Legion colorguards.
"Those flags just got a little heavy, so you'll see me riding this year," said Soria, who is 86.
Pleasanton holds its annual veterans tribute the Sunday before the Veterans Day holiday so that military units and other organizations that are committed to other observances can also be part of Pleasanton's, which is the Bay Area's largest veterans' event.
Patrick R. Leary, this year's VFW commander, said that may not be a concern next year. San Jose, which is one of the last cities in Northern California to hold a Veterans Day parade, has decided not to hold any more parades after this year's parade.
This year's parade review officer in Pleasanton will be Commander James Ridgway, Commanding Officer U.S. Navy Support Center, Alameda. Marching music will be provided by the Army 191st band, the Air Force band from Travis Air Force Base, the Navy's Band of the West and marching bands from Foothill, Dublin and Granada high schools.
The Oakland Military Academy, Ben Ali Bag Pipe Band and the Piedmont Bag Pipe Band are also performing.
Other marching units will include color guards from all five branches of the military as well as local veteran organizations and police and fire departments.
Military vehicles, vintage and current, classic cars and many motorcycles will provide viewing pleasure for everyone..
Parade attendees are encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots.
Soria said that being selected as the parade's grand marshall is a highlight of military service that began when he doctored his birth certificate with his father's permission in order to join the Navy in 1943 as a 16-year-old. He was trained to operate radar and sonar units, which were secret and just becoming mobile at the time, and then dispatched with others to set up the equipment at multiple locations as the war moved across the Pacific.
He returned from the Philippines when the war ended in 1945, only to be called back to sea to ferry sailors back from the Bikini Atoll in 1946 where they had taken ships that were part of post-war atomic bomb tests.
Soria's parents moved to Merced from Mexico, where they raised 12 children, including Danny. Six of their nine sons served in World War II and one also in Korea. Danny, who is married to Joyce Soria, has five children, including a son who served in Vietnam and a daughter who was in the Army, stationed in Panama.
For years after military service, Soria worked as a pressman at the Contra Costa Times, San Francisco Chronicle and as an independent printer with a shop in Dublin. Then, seeing the generous benefits that were being paid by the Oakland Tribune, he became a newspaper pressman again before retiring with a pension and health benefits.
Joyce once asked him to name the two most important things in his life, Soria recalled.
"Marrying you was number one," Soria said with a grin. "Then it was serving in the Army and serving my country."
"I still feel that way," he added. "I've been patriotic all my life. So has my family. That's why being named Grand Marshall of the Veterans parade means so much to me."