DOUGLAS — A large crowd of Douglas residents turned out to show their support for active-duty and veteran members of the U.S. Armed Services at the annual Veterans Day Parade Thursday, Nov. 11, at the Cochise County Fairgrounds on Leslie Canyon Road.

An estimated 40 entries participated in the parade, making their way through the fairgrounds and throwing candy to parade attendees while community members smiled, waved and showed their support.

One of the highlights of the event was the performance of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Crown Dancers from Alchesay High School in Whiteriver, who entertained with their ceremonial dances.

Following the parade, a ceremony was held at which speeches were made, encouraging residents to thank a veteran and understand the importance of Veterans Day. The Douglas High School band and choir provided several musical performances.

During her “Table for One” presentation, Douglas resident Lawanna Diffie shared some startling statistics.

“From World War II, there are still 72,356 that are missing in action,” she said, adding she got the numbers off the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency website. “Korea, 7,552; Vietnam, 1,584; and the Gulf War, there are five. Over 81,600 patriots are still missing. Of that number. 41,000 are presumed lost at sea.”

Douglas Mayor Donald Huish read a proclamation proclaiming Nov. 11, 2021, as Veterans Day in Douglas and encouraged all citizens to recognize the bravery and sacrifice of veterans through ceremonies, recognition and direct appreciation.

The American Legion’s Department of Arizona Commander Ben Headen, as well as Department of Arizona Auxiliary President Jenny Molina and Area “A” Vice Commander Steve Spearl were present in addition to officials from the local Fred Hilburn Post #11.

“Most Americans profess a love of our veterans, especially in gatherings like this on Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” Headen said. “While the feelings are usually sincere, it is important to remember that our veterans are defending us 365 days a year. The heroism that has been demonstrated time and again by veterans from the American Revolution to the global war on terrorism is sometimes unnoticed by those who are enjoying the security their sacrifice has provided.”

Headen spoke about the sacrifices many veterans have made, ranging from loss of life and limbs, the birth and special events of children or family members, to the uncertainty families often face due to post relocation or that their veteran may not return home from a deployment.

“These warriors need advocates,” he said. “That is why the American Legion exists. We are here to serve our veterans, their families and our communities. Veterans need each other, but more importantly, our country needs our veterans. You can show your support for these brave men and women by hiring them in your workplace, visiting a VA hospital or donating to a veterans program.”

U.S. Army retired Maj. Betty Anaya Arnold was this year’s Douglas Veterans Day guest speaker.

Arnold was born and raised in Douglas, graduated from Douglas High School in 1972 and served 25 years in the military, starting her career in 1975 in the Air National Guard.

“I don’t consider myself a hero, nor do I consider myself somebody worthy of being up here,” Arnold said at the ceremony. “When I think about all the many veterans and everything that they have done to support our country and to support our communities, I feel very humbled to call myself a veteran among these heros.”

According to Arnold, there are 19 million veterans, 5% who are World War II and Korean War veterans, 31% Vietnam veterans, 41% Gulf War veterans and 22% peacetime veterans.

“We have a lot of veterans and a lot of things to be proud of,” she said. “The numbers of our veterans are changing and changing daily. In 25 years, half of the veterans we have today will still be around, and a majority of them will be Gulf War veterans. Now is the time to honor these heroes in our country.”

She shared a time when she not only served the military, but also the community of Douglas while with the National Guard.

“I was serving with the 1120th Quartermaster Battalion,” she said. “We were the headquarters for the 2222nd Transportation Company and the 2221st Quartermaster Company,” she said. “These proud men and women are Gulf War veterans.”

Douglas native Ray “Crusher” Acosta is the class sponsor of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Crown Dancers, who made the drive of about six-hours for the event.

Acosta said he has been wanting to bring his performers to Douglas for a long time, but has been unable to do so because of COVID-19 and other conflicting issues.

While in Douglas, the group performed at several elementary schools and at halftime of the Cochise College men’s basketball game Nov. 9.

“These dances that they do are all cultural, spiritual,” Acosta said. “I fell in love with this type of dancing when I first moved up there. I saw them at a parade. They were so amazing. They have ceremonies during the summertime to celebrate the upbringing of growth to womanhood. It’s a lot like our quinceaneras.”

Acosta teaches construction, coaches football and baseball at Alchesay and recently gave up coaching wrestling. He says he loves being on the reservation.

“Coming down here, many of these kids were not aware of the rich history in Cochise County and how it pertains to them,” he said. “I was telling them how Geronimo used to roam these hills many years ago.”

Acosta said he’s happy he was able to bring these dancers to Douglas and hopes to do so again in the near future.