Dave Ham: The man behind the parade
As the public announcer again last Sunday for the 14th annual Tri-Valley Veterans Day parade on Main Street, I gained a new appreciation for the work of Dave Ham, senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Pleasanton Post 6298, who has been the parade coordinator for the last 14 years. It's a position Ham enjoys because of his commitment to honor veterans, but also one that keeps him busy many nights and weekends between parade dates. Next week, he'll assemble his core committee of 10 volunteers to review this year's parade and indoor ceremony that followed in the Veterans Memorial Building. All that's certain for 2011 is that it'll be the Army that's honored. This year it was the Navy. In 2012, those who served in Iraq will have special recognition, no matter which branch of service or government unit they were in.
Nearly 100 separate units participated in last Sunday's parade, from the Scouts to Daughters of the American Revolution to politicians to Pleasanton Military Families, an organization that offers support to those whose children, spouse or parents are on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. Council members Jerry Thorne and Cheryl Cook-Kallio rode in cars in the parade, convertible tops up because of the rain, along with Danville Town Councilman and former Mayor Newell Arnerich, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty and Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton).
Because of the intermittent showers during the parade, Main Street was filled with umbrellas with barely visible faces below them. Even on the reviewing stand, we had rain gear. Tracy Beuscher worked with me, umbrellas held high over the 85 pages of commentary on each parade entry that we used to comment on organizations, vehicles and individuals passing by. Numbers for each unit were supposed to coincide with their position in the line of march, although there was one time when I announced the name of a Girl Scout troop about to come by only to find that it was a Huey helicopter on a float. Especially welcome was the Foothill High School marching band that played patriotic music all along the rain-soaked street and the 300 sharply dressed cadets from the Oakland Military Institute whose snappy cadence matched their spirited chants.
As the parade moved north, Ham was at the Veterans Building making sure the ceremony that followed was ready to go. Because changes are the norm in military events, Ham held off distributing his final colored four-page program until Sunday morning, a program that included music by the Pleasanton Community Concert Band, under the direction of Bob Williams, "The Star Spangled Banner," sung by Ward Belding, and a keynote address by Rear Admiral Jud Scott, U.S. Navy (retired). Because this year's event was dedicated to the Navy, Scott joined me on the reviewing stand while Navy Commander John Molinari served as the parade's grand marshal.
Ham, who has been commander of the local VFW post three different times, was in the Marines from 1965 to 1969 and saw service in Vietnam. He now is manager of site services for the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). He and his wife Carol moved to Pleasanton 14 years ago. Their daughter Julie Castillo teaches first grade at Vintage Hills Elementary School. Son Alex is a junior and in the Army ROTC program at Arizona State University. Stepson Bob Weaver also lives in Pleasanton and helps with the parade. He is an IT specialist at Kaiser Permanente.
Even with ongoing committee planning meetings during the year, it's the last few days before the parade that Ham finds most hectic. He's usually able to button down participation in the parade by local groups, but it's the military that gives him the hardest time. Color guards are among the most difficult since their members are usually high up on lists of military to be deployed. An Army color guard unit last year told Ham they could be sent off to a war zone at any time but would come if they could. They did, but left the next day for Afghanistan. This year, the Coast Guard color guard failed to show. Early November also seems to be the time when top ranking officers are given new posts, with Ham waiting until late last week to learn who'd be this year's grand marshal.
A patriot through and through, Ham's only wish is that more people would turn out for the parade. On a bright sunny day, as many as 6,000 might show up; last Sunday, a count of umbrellas along Main Street indicated about 300 were there.