I recently wore my dress blues for the first time in awhile. I used to wear them only for special events, and now that I’m retired the same holds true, but the occasion on March 1 was, indeed, special. I was invited as a wounded soldier to be in the Grand Entry Parade at the opening of the 79th annual Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show. Altogether, there were about a dozen veterans who participated, including a group of eight or nine other wounded heroes from the San Antonio Military Medical Center.
The event started, in true Texas tradition, with Texas barbecue and Coca-Cola. Because that day was designated by the rodeo as Armed Forces Appreciation Day, we were surrounded by some 1,300 soldiers and their families from Ft. Hood, Texas, and it felt like being back on a base again to see all that camouflage! I learned that the rodeo, which is a very big deal here in Houston, doesn’t get under way without the parade, and having now experienced it, I’d have to say I agree. All of the wounded troops were loaded into horse-drawn wagons and off we went.
It took a lot of logistics to get everyone in the wagons and to store the wheelchairs, but once the horses began, there was no stopping them. We first paraded through lots of horse ranchers and exhibitors where there were more salutes than I could’ve counted! As we prepared to make our way into Reliant Stadium, where the rodeo itself takes place, we all heard the announcers mentioning that a very special group of wounded warriors was about to join them, and in we came. All the applause and cheering, mixed with the shouts of “thank you,” were amazing to hear. The wounded troops were featured on the stadium’s big screen, waving to the crowd and really soaking up the huge show of appreciation that was taking place.
I had never been to the rodeo before, but after seeing the outpouring of support from Texans, I’ll certainly be there again next year with the family in tow. I can only hope to be part of the crowd of raving fans as a caravan of veterans and wounded warriors are brought through because it was pretty obvious the rodeo had permission to begin once that occurred. It was a great experience and I hope other families get to enjoy this amazing spectacle. My special thanks to the Armed Forces Appreciation Committee for allowing the heroes to be so proudly supported on that day.
Donny Daughenbaugh, USMC (ret.)