Eleven-year-old Colby Welker shoved hay bales together on the bed of a 20-foot-long trailer Thursday evening.
The setting sun’s last rays offered little warmth, but aside from pulling his oversized leather gloves a little tighter into his grip, the rosy-cheeked boy showed no notice of the dropping temperature.
“We have to get the hay bales tight together so people don’t lose stuff between them when they’re sitting on them,” Colby explained as his 5-year-old brother, Collin, listed off the presents he hoped to get this Christmas to anyone who would listen.
As the two brothers bounded over the hay, helping where they could and playing when they could get away with it, their mother, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2221 bar manager Denise Welker, and grandfather, post member Lloyd Brown, decorated the trailer to serve as the VFW float in today’s Christmas parade.
“We get a bunch of kids to ride in the float,” VFW Post No. 2221 Commander Lee Killian said, adding with a shrug, “kids like riding in floats.”
Killian has prepared the post’s float for more years than he can count, but the smile on his face as he carried a box of Christmas decorations out to the trailer betrayed the joy his nonchalant comments tried to hide.
Brown also played down his role in preparing the float, but to these two old soldiers, getting ready for the Christmas parade was no different than ironing a uniform or polishing boots.
“I got involved a few years ago,” he said. “I retired and needed something to do.”
Both Brown and Killian, however, were cognizant of the affect a brightly lit parade float flying the nation’s colors would have on the gathered crowd.
“Seeing all the kids downtown — the joy and the happy faces,” Brown said, “I wish it were that way all year round.”
Walking alongside the trailer, Denise Welker strung up a line of Christmas lights, then a line of green garland as Collin trailed behind her with a handful of the zip ties his mother was using to secure the decorations in place.
“Over the years, we picked up the Marine Corps League — they ride with us now,” Killian said, adding with a chuckle, “and we got the (Disabled American Veterans) van that runs in front of us in case any of us old farts keel over from a heart attack.”
In past years, he said the people riding the float — a mix of VFW Post No. 2221 members, their children and other veterans — would hand out small toys and other goodies, but this year, they will be handing out candy.
“It’s about the community — that’s what we’re here for,” Killian explained as he threaded electrical wires through the trailer’s railing. “We do this for the kids. That’s what us guys went to war for, the kids. That’s why we continue to do what we do.”
The float is a simple homemade trailer loaned to Killian by a friend decorated with a few hanging ornaments. The hay was donated by the Swanson Ranch, and Killian plans to haul the float with his everyday pickup truck.
It is not one of the fantastically decorated parade floats that entice people to “ooo” and “ahh,” nor will it chaperone a jolly old man wearing a red suit and collecting children’s wish lists. The modest parade entry will sport a small radio playing Christmas songs over the droning of a generator used to power the lights, and the deeds of the men who ride on the hay bales might be lost to the sands of time.
But modest as the float might be, people will quietly stand and bow their heads as flags representing each branch of the military, prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, the United States and Wyoming wave in the brisk nighttime breeze, reminding attendees of the sacrifices made so citizens of this great nation can celebrate the holidays in peace and free of tyranny.