May 30, 2009 (La Mesa) – For Robert Ruffato, the sight of Old Glory holds special significance. Ruffato was among 16 survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor who were honored in La Mesa’s Flag Day Parade.
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“I was aboard the U.S.S. Utah at Pearl Harbor. Most of all, it was a big surprise,” he told East County Magazine. “The first indication we were under attack was when they dropped a bomb on Ford Island Naval Air Station. Then they hit our ship with two aerial torpedos. It capsized in 12 minutes. We actually walked down the side of the ship and dove into the water.”
Now 86 years old, Ruffato was 18 during the attack. Today, the San Diego veteran salutes Old Glory alongside Erik Hitala, 10, and Wesley Richardson, 11, of Ramona.
Many other local veterans also participated in the parade, including Grossmont College’s own returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. One flashed a peace sign to the crowd. Central Congregational Church, meanwhile, carried a “Peace Dove” to symbolize their opposition to war.
Creative entries this year included “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Reader’s Inc, a children’s bookstore, and American Soapbox Derby by Drew Auto and La Mesa Kiwanis.
With such a wide variety of floats entered, judges agreed that choosing a winner was challenging—as ECM editor Miriam Raftery learned when asked to serve as a judge at this year’s event.
A Marine Corps marching band led the parade, along with riders from a Harley Davidson motorcycle club. Local beauty contest winners waved to onlookers from a “Pirate Princesses” float, while a variety of patriotic-themed entries were submitted by Rotary, VFW, Lions and other local service clubs and veterans’ organizations. Equestrians, dogs, and clowns also entertained the crowd.
The event drew larger crowds than in past years, with an enthusiastic crowd unfazed by overcast, drizzly weather, said grand marshal Shannon O’Dunn, who led efforts to save the parade after the City of La Mesa announced plans to cut the event due to budget constraints. This year's parade featured approximately 75 floats and six marching bands.
“For the first time, this event was funded by individual and business donations, and many donors accepted the City’s invitation to join dignitaries on the reviewing stand,” O’Dunn said. She praised City of La Mesa director of community services Yvonne Garrett for doing “a splendid job of `rebooting’ a cancelled event at short notice.” As a result, O’Dunn added, “The parade was better than ever.”