If you want to make Connie Tyree’s day, stand alongside 4th Avenue with an American flag in hand Monday morning when he passes by.
He’ll be hard to miss – that is, if you’re there for American Legion Post 19’s Veterans Day Parade. Tyree is the parade’s grand marshal.
“I would love to see everyone out there on 4th Avenue with a flag,” the senior past commander of the post said. “I think that would really be something – to get everyone out there with a flag.”
There may be no more fitting choice as head of a parade that is taking place in the legion’s centennial year. The theme is “One Hundred Years of Veterans Serving Veterans,” and if anyone’s emblematic of the organization that serves those in uniform, it would be Tyree. He’s been a legionnaire for nearly a half-century and he’s the oldest surviving past commander of Post 19.
Tyree will lead a parade composed of cars, floats, color guards, school marching bands, bikers and walking and equestrian groups representing more than 100 non- and for-profit organizations around Yuma County.
“The weather forecast is supposed to be fantastic, so we’re hoping for a real good turnout,” said Larry Lord, this year’s parade coordinator.
“We’d like to see all veterans participate,” Lord added. “Come join us and help us out. It’s veterans serving veterans.”
The parade is slated to begin at 9 a.m. at 17th Place and 4th Avenue and, as in year’s past, proceed south on 4th Avenue, concluding at Post 19’s headquarters, 2575 S. Virginia Drive. The post will then stage its 11th hour ceremony marking the end of World War I, the conflict that spawned the holiday and the creation of the legion.
A barbecue will follow the ceremony. Both events are open to the public.
Lord says one of the entries in Monday’s parade will be a scale model of the USS Arizona, one of the battleships sunk by Japan at the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. As it happened, the attack was a pivotal moment in the life of Tyree.
“That’s when I knew I had to be in the Navy, and I was going to be in it, one way or the other.”
He was still underage at the time of the attack, but on his 18th birthday he enlisted in the Navy and was sent to San Diego for basic training.
“I was never a hero,” he said, “but I always carried out my orders to the best of my ability.”
He was honorably discharged in 1948 but returned to serve in the active reserves. His service included assignments at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery at San Diego and at Whitbey Island, Wash., where his unit helped reactivate a naval air station amid the Korean War.
While still in the reserves, he was transferred to Yuma by the telephone company that employed him at the time.
Tyree finished his service in the reserves, but around the early 1970s he joined the American Legion in Yuma.
The legion had been founded in March 1919 in France by American soldiers who had fought in that country against the Germans in World War I. The following September, Congress chartered the legion as a patriotic veterans organization.
Until this year, only those who had served in the military in time of war were eligible to join, but earlier this year a bill advanced by Arizona’s U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and passed by Congress opened up the ranks to anyone who served honorably.
Tyree was leery at first about the change, he said, but then reasoned that it was the right thing to do, because even in peacetime service members could be placed in harm’s way. “I finally came to the conclusion that anyone who served the country in the military was laying down their lives.”
The legion provides a variety of services for active-duty service personnel and veterans, including helping them access Veterans Administration benefits, providing them with food baskets, food or gasoline vouchers or mobility aids, and giving scholarships to youths who are military dependents.
Tyree has dedicated himself to that mission throughout his years as a member of Post 19, Lord said. “Up until recently, he worked tirelessly in this (post) office helping veterans with whatever they needed.”
Tyree said if he had it to do over, he wouldn’t change any of the decisions that led him to join the Navy and later settle in Yuma.
“Yuma has been good to me and my family,” said Tyree, who raised two sons, Tom and Tim, who both became educators. Tom is the Yuma County schools superintendent, and his son, Ryan, is principal at Crane Middle School.
Tyree said he was “flabbergasted” when he found out Post 19 members voted to make him this year’s parade grand marshal.
“In 46-plus years I had never thought of myself being a grand marshal. When Larry (Lord) came and asked me, I said, ‘Was it unanimous, did everyone want me?’ He said yes.”
Wellton will also have a Veterans Day Parade, organized by the towns’ Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6790.
The parade begins at 11 a.m. at West End Park, at Los Angeles and Arizona avenues. All groups wishing to have entries in the parade are asked to be at the park by 10 a.m.
Hot dogs and hamburgers will be served following the parade at the VFW post, 29389 Oakland Ave.