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Veterans honored throughout state

Hannah Dreier
The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Officials and locals gathered at veterans’ halls, casinos and parade routes Monday to pay tribute to members of the armed services.

Crowds gathered in downtown Las Vegas to watch men and women in crisp uniforms march under American flags along with military vehicles and corporate floats in a procession that advertises itself as the largest Veterans Day parade west of the Mississippi River.

Alan Connelly watched the parade from his motorized wheelchair, breathing oxygen through a tube and wearing his Vietnam War decorations on his chest.

He said he’d missed the parade for the past 10 years because of hospital stays, which he attributes to exposure to Agent Orange. Connelly said Veterans Day is especially important to him because of how shut out he felt when he returned to his hometown in California in 1969, after public opinion had turned against the war.

“When I came home, I had a lot of bad incidents happen,” he said. “When I came back, we had to wear our uniforms, and I had some friends from high school who, when they saw me, crossed the road and walked on the other side of the street.

“These last few years, I feel like I’ve been welcomed home finally,” he said.

Also looking on was Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, who spoke in Pahrump on Saturday memorializing Nevada’s female veterans.

“I encourage every Nevadan to take a moment today to thank the veterans in their lives and also remember those currently serving in harm’s way. No doubt we all wish them a safe return home,” he said in a statement.

The parade took Nellis Air Force Base as its theme, after government cutbacks led to the cancellation of an air show normally held there on Veterans Day.

Floats featured zooming planes and trails of exhaust, and multiple contingents of Air Force personnel and trainees marched in powder blue uniforms at intervals during the procession.

Firetrucks, unusual cars and a woman whose face was painted to evoke the bloodied victim of a war all passed by some of Las Vegas’ oldest casinos and a five-story ride that resembles a giant slot machine.

Retired Air Force mechanic Mark Goldstom, 51, took his 14-year-old son to see the air show last year but spent Monday watching the parade from a lawn chair in downtown Las Vegas.

“You don’t have the airplanes, the smell and things that you would at an air show, but it’s still great,” he said.

Goldstom was more disturbed about the reason the air show was canceled this year.

“In my opinion, they shouldn’t cut any military or vet spending. That’s the last thing they should cut,” Goldstom said.

Some Air Force workers saw the cancellation as an opportunity to get out into the community.

Janet Salas, 25, who is stationed at Nellis, beamed as she accepted handshakes from passers-by — her young daughter hiding in her shadow.

It was the first time Salas, who joined the Air Force when she was 18, had been to a Veterans Day parade.

“It’s an honor,” she said. “It’s a day we remember everyone who we’ve served with overseas, in Iraq or Southwest Asia — anyone who fought or died or just served.”

Later, Sen. Heller was expected to join Gov. Brian Sandoval in Boulder City at the Southern Nevada Veterans Home. Sandoval was expected to deliver an afternoon speech.

“As Nevadans and as Americans, today we honor the sense of duty that leads a young woman or man to commit to a cause that is bigger than themselves and we honor the sacrifices that undoubtedly follow that selfless service,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

Towns from Reno to Elko staged their own parades and “fun runs.” The Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe held a 5K honoring Nevada’s Native American veterans.

In Laughlin, the Tropicana Hotel & Casino hosted a weekend festival, complete with a piece of the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Reno residents got together to make quilts for active-duty soldiers.

Nevada is home to about 231,000 veterans, according to census data, meaning that nearly one in 10 residents has served.