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Photos: Albany's Veterans Day reflected in annual parade

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The Albany Veterans Day Parade and related celebrations went off with a bang — literally. From the firing of large artillery cannons at Timber Linn Memorial Park to the reverse parade that directed the public to various locations around town, 2021’s event was more of a return to form following a down pandemic year in 2020.

Multiple veterans were honored for their service, both while enlisted and once they got out of the armed forces.

This year’s parade grand marshal is WWII veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor David Russell, who is 101 years old and the last remaining mid-valley survivor of Pearl Harbor.  

Russell survived the sinking of not one but two U.S. battleships in the Pacific Theatre. The USS Oklahoma was stationed at Pearl Harbor the day that the Japanese surprise attack sank six battleships and killed more than 2,000 U.S. sailors and Marines.

Russell didn’t have an explanation of how or why he survived, save for good fortune and a guardian angel or two.

“I was very fortunate,” he said. “How did I survive? I don’t know, just the kind of luck that happens sometimes.”

Surviving one ship is lucky enough, but two? Russell is a hard man to kill.

He was also aboard the USS Mahan, which was disabled by Japanese forces in the Philippines exactly three years later, on Dec. 7, 1944. Russell described seeing the Japanese planes flying in their direction and assuming that they were going to fire torpedoes.

“Instead, it turns out they were doing a suicide dive,” he said.

Despite his brushes with death, Russell stayed in the service for 20 years, landing first in Corvallis in 1958 and then moving to Albany, which he still calls home. 

Russell is headed back to Pearl Harbor this year for the 80th anniversary of the day that changed his life forever. The event will be held at the USS Arizona memorial, erected over the site of the battleship that still rests off the harbor.

That’s the exact memorial that 8-year-old Bryden Kramer and his family visited just weeks ago. The boy is obsessed with war history, particularly WWII, so seeing the site of the USS Arizona was a dream come true for him.

Kramer was at the Linn County Fairgrounds checking out the armored police and military vehicles parked out on the gravel lot on Thursday.  

He said he enjoyed going up in the turret hole of a B-150 Bearcat, and he described the vehicle as “cool, fun and really functional.”

The Linn and Benton County Republicans combined their volunteer efforts to construct a float that was also housed at the fairgrounds, using a trailer donated to the cause by Boshart Trucking.

“The recognition of veterans and those who served is a big part of our platform,” Ben Roche, chair of the communications committee, said.

On the Republicans’ float were two veterans: Ken Horvath, 75, and Bob Zedwick, 72. Horvath served in the Navy while Zedwick served in the Army, though both served as part of their respective branch’s security agencies.

“We like to support all veterans,” Zedwick said, “but not all of them can be here because they sacrificed their lives. We like to honor them.”

Even Old Saint Nick and his wife came down to Albany to pay respect to veterans, helping to greet the public at the Christmas Storybook Land tent.

“Oh, we wouldn’t miss it,” Mrs. Claus said. “Even if just one person drives by it’s worth it.”

Santa said the commute from the North Pole was “a bit chilly in spots, but we made it alright.”

“He insisted on driving the whole way,” Mrs. Claus interjected, with a slight roll of her eyes.

“If you’d seen the way she drives a sleigh, you’d know why I insist on driving,” Santa rebutted.

The parade took on a “reverse” format for the second year, with the public driving their own vehicles to numerous locations that housed floats. But veterans and parade officials still got their arm workouts in as they waved at the passing public.

“We’ve been saying hi to folks, especially the media,” Horvath said. “But mostly we sit here and reminisce and swap stories.”

Many veterans echoed that sentiment, saying that a big part of what makes Veterans Day so special to them is the ability to see all their old friends. Russell, who eats breakfast every morning at the local American Legion Post (except on Sundays), said that even he rarely gets to see all the local vets who turn out in droves for the occasion.

“I did a lot of waving,” Russell said. “It’s good to see some of my old friends.”

One of those old friends was a pit bull named Bear, who’s the service dog of fellow veteran Nick Colon. She and Russell are good friends after meeting numerous times at the American Legion breakfasts.

“She even used to recognize his car in the parking lot,” Colon said, while Bear nuzzled Russell’s hand and Russell beamed from ear to ear.

Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or troy.shinn@lee.net. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn. 

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