The American Legion’s daylong centennial celebration, "Patriotism in the Park," began with a parade with classic cars, first-responders, military vehicles and motorcycle clubs in front of a crowd of veterans, their families and community members.
The parade through Grand Forks Saturday morning honored those who formally and informally serve the United States.
Reginald Urness, a World War II veteran from Leeds, N.D., led the parade in his 1931 Model A4 roadster. He has been a member of the Legion since 1945.
“I’m 92 years old and I’m just glad to be here (at the centennial),” Urness said.
Urness attended the Nuremberg Trials when he was 19 years old, and he did not sit far from Hermann Göring, a war criminal who served closely under Adolf Hitler. Göring was convicted of crimes against peace and humanity, war crimes and conspiracy and committed suicide two days after Urness saw him in court.
Urness also rode across Germany in a forty-and-eight boxcar, so named because it was said it could fit either 40 men or eight horses inside of it.
After the first line of classic cars that dropped off the VIPs for the opening ceremony Saturday in Grand Forks, the North Dakota American Legion’s color guard led the parade. The Grand Forks Air Force Base’s color guard was supposed to be at the front of the parade, but it was called to attend a funeral unexpectedly. The job to assemble the color guard fell on the shoulders of Leon Hiltner.
“It’s just the nature of the game,” the North Dakota department’s sergeant-at-arms said. “You know the basic plan and adjust. I’ve been fortunate to have great assistance.”
Hiltner’s duties ended after the parade, and he hoped to see the history displays because he is a self-described “history buff.” He said his favorite part of the event was “interacting with Legionnaires I’ve come to know through the years.”
Midway through the parade, the Green Knights, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and Legion Riders turned off their engines and held a moment of silence for 10 veterans, including seven who died in a motorcycle crash in New Hampshire on June 21 while on their way to an American Legion service event.
Bob Greene, the commander of Post 6 in Grand Forks, has been planning this centennial event with the executive committee since July of last year.
“Since Grand Forks had been selected for the department convention, it made sense to have an extra day for the celebration,” he said.
The American Legion convention will run through Sunday and will include general business meetings, officer elections and memorials.
Greene said Saturday that he was “on an adrenaline high” and that it was “absolutely phenomenal” to see everyone come together despite having to get to work at 7 a.m.
Congressman Kelly Armstrong and representatives for Mayor Michael Brown and Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer also attended.
The American Legion is an organization that was founded in 1919 to support veterans across the United States.