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Royal court among highlights at Spokane’s annual promenade

Thousands of people swarmed downtown Saturday to enjoy one of Spokane’s oldest and most cherished traditions, the Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade.

The parade began in 1938 and has evolved to celebrate the armed forces, recognize the city’s youth and showcase the region. The 73rd edition featured about 30 decked-out floats, 40 bands belting out tunes, dozens of dignitaries, active and reserve military units, and several equestrian units from around the Northwest and Canada.

Before the parade, Terry Barr sat around a card table and a cooler of food with a group of friends from the Shadle Park High School class of 1960. They have been attending together for the last five or six years.

He said he enjoys people-watching and spending time with friends at the “Cruzin’ the Falls” car show more than the parade itself.

“Everybody has a good time,” Barr said. “I usually bring food. We just came to see the car show, as always.”

But perhaps the most important part of the parade was the float carrying the 2011 royal court: Queen MacKenzie Johnson and Princesses Christa Gentili, Sydne Alegria, Katherine Verkovod, Chloe Dugger, Amanda Cash and Courtney Vander Linden, all beaming and waving to the crowd as they rode by on a lilac-tinseled float, the glowing queen front and center with the princesses surrounding her.

The parade also featured floats from all the armed forces: current service members, former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, survivors of Pearl Harbor, and veterans of foreign wars including World War II, the Korean War, the Gulf War and Vietnam.

Riding atop other floats were queens and princesses from cities around the Northwest, police, firefighters, and a number of marching bands, cheer squads and dance teams.

The occasion went off without a hitch. Almost.

The number of equestrian units expected to participate was more than halved after news spread of a deadly equine virus hitting Washington.

Nonetheless, young and old alike watched with joy as the many floats passed by.

Josephine Copeland, 5, danced on the side of the street as the floats passed.

“My favorite part is all the princesses,” she said. “They just look so beautiful.”

While parade attendees seemed to be having a good time, Stan “Dyna-Man” Woods, of the Combat Vet Riders motorcycle club, doesn’t want them to forget an important aspect of the parade and part of its namesake: the armed forces.

“While we’re sitting out here … enjoying a parade, there are tens of thousands out there in harm’s way,” Woods said. “There are folks out there fighting to defend the freedoms that we enjoy every day.”

And their sacrifices did not go unappreciated. As service members marched passed, hats came off and onlookers stood up and gave hearty ovations.

“They stand straight and they go on airplanes and they rescue people,” Copeland said of the soldiers. “Like a million.”

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