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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eight decades and counting: 80th Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade honors region’s veterans

UPDATED: Tue., May 22, 2018

Coasting down Washington Street in a vintage military Jeep, World War II veteran and retired Adm. George Lotzenhiser said he relished being a part of one of the nation’s foremost armed forces parades.

Lotzenhiser, who went on to become an accomplished music composer after decades of active duty, drove by hundreds of Spokane patrons thanking him and his fellow officers and service members.

“It’s a real thrill to come back,” said Lotzenhiser, the founding Dean of Fine Arts at Eastern Washington University. “This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve returned for the parade.”

As it has done for the better part of a century, the 80th annual Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade showcased the region’s veterans and service members, from decorated Marines in their 90s to fresh-faced troops in their 20s.

The procession featured 42 school bands, 26 floast and 17 equestrian teams. Over 100 different groups marched in the parade.

The dozen or so floats drew a few “oohs” and “ahhs” from downtown Spokane onlookers. Deer Park showed its creativity with a “Jailhouse Rock” theme, featuring a jail and the King, Elvis Presley. Rosalia kept the mood light with a Dr. Suess’s “The Lorax” float.

One float from a local group of Army National Guardsmen served as a tribute to the Esso 77, a Fairchild Airforce-based plane that crashed in 1999, killing four servicemen.

“We made the (replica plane) right down to the tail numbers, exactly what they were flying,” said Chuck Oversby, vehicle fleet manager of the local National Guard unit.

Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, a decorated servicewoman and former POW, served as the parade’s Grand Marshal. Spokane’s Mandy Manning, 2018 National Teacher of the Year, was the honorary parade grand marshal. This year’s Lilac Queen was North Central High School’s Halle Nelson.

This article was changed on May 22, 2018 to correct the amount of bands, floats and equestrian teams participating in the parade. It also was changed to correct the second- and third-place President’s Award winners.

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