One night during World War II, Army air traffic controller Vanda Bates talked a struggling B-17 bomber pilot down to a safe landing at fog-bound Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio.
The pilot, it turned out, was Jimmy Stewart, the Hollywood star who went on to fly bombing missions over Europe and win the Distinguished Flying Cross.
"He said, 'If you're ever in California, you have an open invitation to my home,' " recalled Bates, now 87, who will be one of the grand marshals for Sunday's Veterans Parade in downtown Lexington. "Unfortunately, the Army never stationed me anywhere near California."
This year's Veterans Parade will highlight the sacrifices and contributions of women who have served in the U.S. military. Accordingly, all of the parade grand marshals will be women.
Joining Bates will be Sandrene Anthony of Lexington, who served in Iraq as a medic with the 1st Armored Division; Maria Ramirez of Lexington; who served in Iraq with a Marine Corps Reserve MP unit; and Michele Jackson of Richmond, who served in the Air Force during the Iraq war.
Organizers emphasize that any veterans who are on hand Sunday are welcome to join the parade if they would like to take part.
The march will begin at Main Street and Midland Avenue at 3:30 p.m., preceded by a flyover by a C-130 transport from the Kentucky Air National Guard. Mayor Jim Newberry will join the parade, and more than 50 units are expected, including a traditional military honor guard from Camp Nelson National Cemetery.
Bates and the other grand marshals will ride in convertibles.
Bates had flying in her blood when she was born in Ashland as Vanda Giovanelli. Her father, himself a pilot, taught her to fly at age 12 — four years before she was old enough to legally get a learner's permit to drive.
When World War II began, Bates tried to join the Army's ferry command — made up of women pilots who flew newly built warplanes cross-country for overseas deployment. But she was rejected because of a perforated eardrum.
Instead, the Army made Bates an air-traffic controller, which kept her close to aviation even though she couldn't fly.
During the war, she ran control towers at several military airfields, and she became one of the few women in the Army authorized to talk pilots down during instrument-flying conditions. Afterward, she worked at the VA Medical Center in Lexington for many years, and she remains active in the American Legion.
All would go again
Sandrene Anthony, a native of Barbados, arrived in Baghdad early in the war, "when there were bodies still on the ground." For 15 months, she helped care for wounded U.S. soldiers and injured Iraqi civilians, while dodging rocket, mortar and sniper attacks almost daily.
The scariest moment for Ramirez came when she was still in Kuwait, waiting to move into Iraq. An Iraqi Scud missile passed directly overhead, slamming into an another American camp nearby.
Jackson didn't have to worry about enemy attacks while serving with the Air Force in South Carolina during the war. The hardest part for her, she said, was leaving behind her husband and daughter.
In fact, Jackson, Ramirez and Anthony all left young children behind when they were activated for the invasion of Iraq. But all of them say they would go again if needed.
"If they called today, I'd say let me get my stuff, which I still have in the garage," Ramirez said.
Here is a rundown of public events around the region honoring veterans over the next few days.
Lexington: Victory 3-K Run/Walk and Veterans Parade Race, 2 p.m., downtown; annual Veterans Parade, 3:30 p.m., downtown.
Frankfort: All-veterans ceremony, 11 a.m., Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Coffee Tree Lane. Gov. Steve Beshear will be keynote speaker.
Nicholasville: Traditional Veterans Day program, 11 a.m., Camp Nelson National Cemetery. Guest speaker, live music, cannon-firing ceremony.
Lexington: Honoring All Who Served, annual concert and Veterans Day observance by the Bluegrass Military Affairs Coalition, 7 p.m., Anchor Baptist Church, 3601 Winthrop Drive. Veterans from all eras are encouraged to attend and wear their military medals and ribbons.
Danville: Veterans Day ceremony and luncheon, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday, National Guard Armory. Veterans and immediate families from Boyle, Lincoln, Garrard and Mercer counties invited.
Wilmore: Thomson-Hood Veterans Center will honor all veterans with certificates at 11:11 a.m.
Hazard: Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center will hold a veterans recognition ceremony, 1:30-3 p.m. Food, guest speakers, displays and certificates for eligible veterans in attendance.
Mount Vernon: Rockcastle County Middle School will honor veterans and their families with a reception starting at 9:30 a.m., followed by a student-led program at 1 p.m.