After years of pitiful turnouts for San Francisco's annual Veteran's Day Parade down Market Street, parade organizers have moved this Sunday's 96th annual parade to Fisherman's Wharf -- with hopes the throngs of tourists will create a potential built-in audience.
"For years now the parade's been going down on Market Street," said parade organizer Nelson Lum. "Unfortunately, most of the time, the streets are empty."
Lum said, despite the talk of a resurgence on Market Street, the annual parade often plays out to the sound of crickets. Lum said organizers finally gave in and moved the event to Bay Street, where it will file past the rows of fish and chowder stands. As an appropriate aside, this year's parade will pay special honor to Tommy Cincotta, a Vietnam War casualty who grew up working in his family's fish processing business on the wharf.
"It's lovely because this is where he should've been," said Angel Cincotta, who along with her two sisters runs the Alioto-Lazio Fish Company.
Tommy Cincotta volunteered for the Marines to fight in Vietnam in 1968 against his mother's wishes. Cincotta grew up spending his free hours working at the fish company -- learning to clean fish and crack crab. Even before the headstrong 18-year-old left for Vietnam, he braced his mother for what might come.
"He got me aside on two different occasions," said his mother Stephanie Cincotta, "and said I want you to know that I will not be coming back."
Cincotta also informed his mother to expect service medals to come home in his place. His mother rolled her eyes at the prediction.
But Tommy Cincotta's prophecy came true less than a year after he landed in Vietnam. He was killed while walking point on patrol -- sensing an ambush, he took on an enemy bunker single-handedly, saving his platoon but losing his life. His family learned of his death through a letter from one of his fellow Marines -- rather than through the normal channels of a personal military visit, which caused a highly publicized military embarrassment. Stephanie Cincotta said her son wanted it that way. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star -- fulfilling another prediction.
"How many of us live our lives never doing what we want to do," she said. "If he was willing to do it and give his life for it, who am I to say anything."
Stephanie Cincotta said she was moved to learn parade organizers planned to honor her son -- a child of the wharf where this year's parade will take place. She said the honor stirred up the same kind of memories as several years ago when members of her son's troop came from around the world to hold a church service in San Rafael to honor him.
"But I accept," she said of the parade's tribute to her son. "Hopefully I'll be here to watch them go by."
The 96th annual Veteran's Day Parade gets underway at 11 a.m. It will start on the Embarcadero at North Point Street, and head west down Jefferson Street, passing the reviewing stand on Jefferson Street, near Leavenworth Street.