For the 27th consecutive year, a temporary grandstand is being erected in front of the Torrance Civic Center for the city's annual Armed Forces Day parade.
But unlike 1960, when a single stand of bleachers was set up on the lawn in front of the old City Hall, this year six men from the city's Park Services Department are spending three days to build a 265-foot-long grandstand in front of the Torrance Civic Center Library to accommodate 454 dignitaries.
Another 50,000 to 60,000 people are expected to line Torrance Boulevard between Crenshaw Boulevard and Madrona Avenue at 1 p.m. Saturday to watch a parade of 24 bands--including those from Torrance's high schools and the Marine Corps band from Camp Pendleton--six floats, artillery, tanks, jeeps, Boy Scouts and veterans groups.
Nearly 1,300 people have signed up to participate in 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer runs Saturday morning. At least 400 more runners will sign up on Saturday, according to Torrance Police Capt. Darrell Lanham, the parade's coordinator. Military exhibits are on display in the Del Amo Fashion Center parking lot on Carson Street near Madrona Avenue.
The Torrance observance has become the largest civilian-sponsored Armed Forces Day event in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, yet Torrance has only a fraction of the populations of the other eight cities--including Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington--that are sanctioned by the Department of Defense to hold Armed Forces Day parades.
"We're unique in that you would expect this kind of parade from a military town, but here we are a town that is not even next to a base," said Torrance Councilman Bill Applegate, who has been involved in the planning of the parade for the past 14 years. "We're not a military town, we're just average America."
While a new wave of patriotism is seemingly sweeping the country since worldwide terrorism has targeted U.S. citizens abroad and since the U.S. attack on Libya, patriotism has never left Torrance.
The city also has the distinction of being the only city in the nation never to miss staging a parade. According to the Department of Defense, many cities canceled parades during the late '60s and early '70s when anti-war sentiments flourished.
"We're very proud of Torrance, particularly because it is the longest-running parade in the country," said Lt. Gabrial Groves, a spokeswoman for the Air Force's Space Division in Hawthorne. The Space Division has participated in the Torrance parade since 1973. This year, its commander, Lt. Gen. Forrest McCartney, is parade grand marshal.
Torrance began holding a parade in 1960 after then-mayor Albert Isen attended a military celebration in Northern California that included the National Guard unit from Torrance.
Isen, who said he never served in the military because of health reasons, said he simply wanted to have an old-fashioned, small-town parade to honor the local National Guard and other armed forces units, particularly because of the many defense contracts awarded to South Bay-based companies such as TRW, Hughes Aircraft Co. and the Garrett Corp.
Torrance's population has remained relatively small compared to other cities with parades, but its parade, which in the past has included the late five-star Army Gen. Omar Bradley and the secretaries of the Navy and Army as grand marshals, has grown beyond expectations.
"I guess we never really thought about it getting so large when we first started," said J. Walker Owens, a vice president with the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce who has helped plan the parade for the past 23 years. "It was just our way of saying thanks to the people in uniform."
"I have enough pride in giving birth to it that I hope it never is discontinued," Isen said.
But while interest in patriotism has risen this year, so has concern over terrorism reaching the U.S.
Bill Johnson, a city park construction supervisor, said chicken wire will be strung around the bottom of the grandstand to prevent anything from being tossed under the bleachers.
"This would be a prime target," he said, only half-jokingly. While Johnson said the parade planners do not expect anything to happen, they do want to be prepared for any eventuality.
Lanham said security at the parade will be increased, but he said it is because of expectations of a larger crowd rather than a fear of terrorism.
Evelyn Messer, who has lived on Torrance Boulevard across from the grandstand for 15 years, volunteered that she may not take her usual front-row spot on the curb this year because of the potential terrorist threat.
But, she said, she will still enjoy the parade even if it is inconvenient to have people standing on her lawn and stepping on her flowers.
"No one around here gets upset," she said of her neighbors. "People step on my flowers, but I just tell them to get off, and we go back to enjoying the parade.
"I think the parade is marvelous. I'm so proud of our boys I could just burst with pride."