Parade honors veterans’ service

Robert Lingafelt of Altoona was head of helicopter maintenance for the Army’s 192nd Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 — a time that included the Tet Offensive.

During the offensive, things were so intense that “it took all we could do to keep one gunship in the air,” Lingafelt said.

Lingafelt never spoke much about his time in Vietnam while raising his family, but in recent years, he has come to believe that “it’s better to get it out than to keep it in.”

On Saturday, he attended the city’s Veterans Day parade — a venue for “getting it out.”

“I enjoy coming out here and seeing the people and hearing them say, “‘Thank you,'” Lingafelt said.

There were 59 units in the parade, led by the traditional “caparisoned horse” — a riderless animal outfitted to represent a high-ranking officer who had died.

Dying was something Lingafelt didn’t banish from his thoughts before going to the Far East in the mid-1960s — he’d named his unborn daughter before embarking, just in case he didn’t make it back.

When he did make it back to the West Coast upon his discharge, that daughter, Brenda Marie, was already 10 months old.

He couldn’t wait to get home to see her.

“It was beautiful,” he said of that meeting.

Brenda Marie Imler, also of Altoona, will soon be 50 years old, he said.

There were more parade groups this year than in recent Veterans Day parades — but far fewer than there were a generation ago, when there were more military groups stationed around town, said George Good, a Coast Guard veteran and the senior vice commander of the Blair County War Veterans Council, which organized the event.

Council Commander Lloyd Peck spent all year recruiting participants, Good said.

Good, 69, was celebrating his birthday.

His father was actually eager to keep George from being born Nov. 11, because he’d wanted the birth on the day before — the birthday of the Marine Corps.

Good would seem to have been destined to appreciate either anniversary.

It made him proud to attend, he said.

Sisters Dorothy Lans-berry and May McConnell watched the parade from 12th Avenue, in front of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church.

McConnell had told Lansberry that morning it was too cold to go.

It was about 19 degrees in Altoona a couple of hours after dawn, and the parade was scheduled for 10 a.m.

“The veterans never would have said that,” Lansberry replied.

So they came and endured.

McConnell’s husband had been in the Navy.

Lansberry’s husband built tanks in California.

A couple of blocks down 12th Avenue, Bill Bravin of Altoona was sitting on a lawn chair holding granddaughter Angeline Bravin, 5, on his lap, between Angeline’s forays into the street for candy thrown to her by participants in vehicles.

“She loves parades,” Bravin said. She was well on her way to filling a plastic bag with the candy.

Angeline had ordered her grandpa to bring the bag, knowing what awaited.

“Her grandmother (will) kill us,” Bravin said.

Vietnam veteran Paul Johnson, pastor of 18th Street Community Church, gave the benediction following speeches from the reviewing stand in front of the Robert E. Laws Veterans Mall after the parade ended.

“We were once the protectors,” Johnson said, speaking for those whom the parade honored. “Now we’re the protected.”