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Patriots on parade

Our Laguna

March 10, 2006|By BARBARA DIAMOND

The 2006 Patriots Day Parade started with a hitch, but ended without a glitch.

Laguna's Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legionaires stepped in for the U.S. Marine Mounted Color Guard when the horses pulled up lame on Friday and had to be scratched from the parade, but once under way, nothing marred the day.

This year's theme, "America ? Still United" was mot juste, at least on Parade Day.

Fears about disruptions ended when the last entry passed the reviewing stand in front of City Hall without disruption, which supporters of the Minuteman Project threatened when the group which was denied entry in the parade.

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"That cost us a lot of money," said attorney Gene Gratz, parade committee co-counsel with Donna Bader in the suit filed and lost by the Minuteman Project, seeking to be allowed in the parade against the committee's wishes.

Gratz and Bader had offered to waive their attorney fees, estimated to be about $40,000, if the project founder Jim Gilchrist made a successful, good-faith effort to deter his followers from disrupting the parade.

"I want to say a special thanks to Donna and Gene for helping us," parade committee President Nina Rietsch said. "Otherwise, we would not have had a parade this year."

Minuteman supporters questioned the patriotism of parade officials and participants, including parade Chair Charles Quilter III. Quilter is a retired U.S. Marine colonel, who served his country in four wars. The parade's grand marshal, Gordon Dillow, served in Vietnam and volunteered to be embedded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, assigned to report on the action of 1/5 ? that's corps speak for the First Battalion, 5th Marines.

While with the 1/5, Dillow met Marine Corporal Kevin Staight, a Laguna Beach High School graduate. Staight is home after two tours in Iraq and Dillow invited him to ride in the Grand Marshal's car in the parade.

Walter F. Rening was the honored Patriot of the Year, recognized for his service in the military, not to mention his 27 years with the Laguna Beach Fire Department.

Citizen of the Year Cossie Mechling, who died Dec. 31, was represented by family members and best friend Marthann Newton in the parade.

"My mother gave her heart to Laguna," Mechling's daughter Wendy Gildea said. "Her affection was not misplaced."

Hilary Greene and Robert Knapp were selected by the high school as the Junior Citizens of the Year.

Almost 100 entries marched or rode in the parade, sent on their way by Howard Levin, who has served as the starter for 17 years.

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