Vietnam parade set for Saturday morning

Aug. 21, 2014 @ 05:33 PM

The Second Annual Welcome Home Vietnam Parade in Pigeon Forge on Saturday is the centerpiece in a group of veteran-themed events in the city this weekend.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. at the Red Roof Mall and will go south along the Parkway, ending at the Smoky Mountain Convention Center at the Ramada Inn.

Headlining the parade is grand marshal Louise Mandrell, as well as Barry Rice, present of the Tennessee Association of Vietnam Veterans.

Butch Helton, the city's manager of special events, said that, if weather permits, he is hopeful the parade will attract more than the roughly 5,000 people who viewed it last year.

"We've had quite a bit of support from our local media, and we've gotten the word out about it," Helton said. "My best guesstimate would be somewhere in the 5,000 to 10,000 range, so I would urge everybody who can to try to get a spot on the right side of the Parkway to have a bird's-eye view of everything."

The parade will go on rain or shine, and would be canceled only if the weather is dangerous. City officials will monitor the weather until the time of the event.

Residents should be wary of traffic restrictions on the Parkway, which will begin at 9 a.m. and last until the parade concludes at around 11:30 a.m.

"From traffic light four on down, the right hand side will be closed down," Helton said. "What they will do is divert all traffic to the left hand side. It will be the same as we do on the Dolly parade, but on the opposite side. The road will gradually open back up in stages as the parade goes through."

U.S. Tours was in charge of the parade last year, but this year an agreement was reached with the city to allow Pigeon Forge's Department of Special Events to take over parade responsibilities. U.S. Tours will still have a presence in the city, with many other activities in the city.

"We're excited about it," Helton said. "Pigeon Forge is a patriotic city, and any way we can pay tribute to all the veterans means a lot to us."

Last year the parade was tagged as "the parade they never got," and that will be the theme once again this year. Although the focus is Vietnam veterans, all veterans are welcome, Helton said.

As of Thursday morning, the parade had 67 entries, and Helton said that would likely be the cutoff, "unless somebody really great comes along." All entries are military- or veteran-themed.

When the parade concludes, Mandrell and others will remain to participate in a meet-and-greet at the Smoky Mountain Convention Center, which also has events going on for the duration of the weekend.

A replica Vietnam Memorial Wall is on display at the Smoky Mountain Convention Center, and is available to be at no charge from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Thursday evening the wall was brought into town with a police escort, and Pigeon Forge residents and visitors had a chance to see the replica on its way to the convention center.

"It came into town with a bunch of motorcycles and flags behind it," said Pete Smith of Smoky Mountain Resorts. "It was a sight to see."

Other activities scheduled at the convention center during the weekend include a relic show, an artillery demonstration, special guests and entertainment.

"There are millions of dollars of artifacts, and people can buy, sell, trade," Smith said.

Prior to the parade on Saturday morning, Golden Corral in Pigeon Forge will have a free breakfast for veterans. On Thursday, the Titanic Museum offered free admission to veterans, with any spouse accompanying a veteran getting half-off. The arrangement will continue through Sunday.

For more information about events U.S. Tours is holding this weekend, visit welcomehomevietnam.com. For more information about the Welcome Home Vietnam Parade, call the city's office of special events at 429-7397.

jold@themountainpress.com