Wearing a red, white, and blue plaid shirt and a wide grin, Milt Uzelac stepped out on his balcony and watched as Engine 83 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department led a caravan of 35 cars up Grandpoint Lane in Miraleste Hills.
It was Memorial Day and a car parade honored Uzelac, a former fighter pilot, test pilot and lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force.
The 91-year-old Korean War Veteran flew more than 100 missions and helped supervise, design and develop the B-2 stealth bomber.
But now, like everyone else in the world, Uzelac, a widower, was staying safe at home because of the coronavirus.
Memorial Day, typically commemorated with community events, concerts and speeches, had changed. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, large gatherings were cancelled and celebrations were held online.
“My father and sister were supposed to be with me in Maryland to celebrate Memorial Day weekend,” said Ellen, Uzelac’s oldest daughter. “It’s something of a family tradition. That didn’t happen for obvious reasons.”
Uzelac couldn’t fly to Maryland to celebrate with his daughters, but his friends and neighbors refused to let his service to his country go unmarked.
As far as they were concerned, COVID-19 was not going to rain on his parade. Emails were sent out to Uzelac’s friends and neighbors inviting them to honor the well-liked veteran by participating in a patriotic car caravan on Memorial Day. Those participating were encouraged to decorate their cars with signs, balloons and flags.
The caravan started to shape up, but it needed something big—something eye-catching—something that made noise. LA County Fire Captain John Carresi enthusiastically agreed that Engine 83 would be just the ticket.
“It’s an honor and a privilege for firemen to be able to honor a veteran,” explained Engineer Mark Brehm. “We have the same mind set and to be asked to be part of an event like this reminds us of why we’re here. And now with the virus, people put more emphasis on things. They’re looking to get back to normal life and we’re proud to be a part.”
In the middle of the afternoon on Memorial Day, people lined their cars up on Highpoint Road waiting for the fire truck. They opened their car windows and waved and shouted greetings to friends they hadn’t seen since the quarantine began—happy to see each other even at a distance.
Live patriotic music blared from the back of a pickup truck at the end of the parade as Andrew Thomas, and his friends, Dax and Xander Corcoran, played their hearts out.
When the caravan reached the veteran’s house, the people slowed their cars, waved their flags and shouted ‘we love you Milt.’ Uzelac waved back from his balcony shaking his head as if he couldn’t believe it.
As she watched the video of her father’s parade, Uzelac’s youngest daughter Barbara, who lives in San Diego. said she was moved to tears at the display of respect.
Oldest daughter Ellen, from Maryland, agreed.
“The caring, the can-do and the creativity that sparked the car caravan are shining examples of brightness in dark times,” said Ellen. “Our family will never forget this Memorial Day, not because of our being apart but because of the inspiring gesture that brought so many human hearts together. “