Five Favorites: Veterans

by Arnold Woods

San Francisco has a long history with the military and veterans. As soon as the Spanish arrived in 1776, they established the Presidio as their military outpost here. The Presidio was later a Mexican military base and then an American army base. San Francisco also featured Fort Point guarding the Golden Gate, Fort Funston, Fort Mason, Fort Miley, and the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. Around the Bay Area, there are or were numerous military facilities for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. San Francisco continues to celebrate Fleet Week each year although most of these military facilities are no longer active.

With so many members of the military stationed in San Francisco and in the surrounding Bay Area for so many years, the City was a natural draw for service members. Of course, they frequently had their pictures taken as they marched in parades or took part in touristy activities around the City. Naturally, a fair number of those images have ended up in our OpenSFHistory collection. For this Veteran’s Day, we are taking a look at five of our favorite OpenSFHistory images of service members and veterans.

Veteran resting on car during parade, circa 1938.Veteran resting on car during parade, circa 1938. (wnp14.3704; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

We love this image of a veteran taking a rest on the running board of a car during a parade. We don’t know who he is. We are also not sure when this parade took place or what the parade was for. Our circa 1938 estimate of the date is probably based on the car he is sitting in. He has a belt around his right arm that may have been used to help him hold the flag that is propped up next to him on the car. There is a quiet dignity to him as he rubs his sore foot and one feels certain that even though his dogs are barking, he will soon rejoin the parade and march with pride.

Veteran and dog during American Legion Parade, October 1, 1946.Veteran and dog during American Legion Parade, October 1, 1946. (wnp14.2301; Courtesy of a Private Collector.)

Another favorite because of this dog holding what looks like a block of wood that has an American flag sticking out of it and wearing an “Any Old Post” sign. The veteran leaning on a cane or walking stick appears to be giving the pooch a quizzical look. Behind them, a marching band is heading down the street. The image was taken during an American Legion parade on October 1, 1946 that went from the Ferry Building to Seals Stadium. The parade “wowed”1 a crowd of an estimated 100,000 people. The image was taken on 10th Street after the parade turned off Market.

Grand Army of the Republic Civil War veterans at the War Memorial Exercises, November 11, 1926.Grand Army of the Republic Civil War veterans at the War Memorial Exercises, November 11, 1926. (wnp36.04525; DPW Horace Chaffee – SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

On Armistice Day in 1926, San Francisco broke ground on the War Memorial building, which it intended to be a peace memorial that would be a home for the arts. At the groundbreaking ceremony, there were numerous veterans of various conflicts, including World War I that had ended eight years earlier in 1918 and the Spanish-American War of 1898. There were also members of the Grand Army of the Republic, the fraternal organization of veterans of the Civil War. As over 70 years had passed since the end of the Civil War, there were understandably few veterans of the conflict still living at that time. This image shows the Grand Army veterans seated with American flags at the ceremony. Opera singer Louise Homer entertained the veterans with a rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic2.

Sailor at Playland, circa 1937.Sailor at Playland, circa 1937. (wnp27.0202; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

What would a military service member do in their free time in San Francisco? Visit Playland of course! Here we have a Navy sailor taking a swig of what looks like a beer in front of Playland and with Sutro Heights seen in the background. Based on the vehicles parked on the Great Highway, we estimate this image to have been taken sometime in the mid-to-late 1930s. We don’t know who this sailor is, but somebody was documenting his day off. We have several images of him at Playland, including one eating a candy apple, a couple more images of him posing on the Ocean Beach Esplanade, and one of him at the Lincoln Statue in the Civic Center. Although he looks pretty serious in the image above, he looks playful in other images. It appears he had a pretty good day on leave in San Francisco.

Navy WAVES on Market Street on V-J Day, August 15, 1945.Navy WAVES on Market Street on V-J Day, August 15, 1945. (wnp14.3497; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

Women make up an ever increasing percentage of our service members and veterans. These four women were Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and were out celebrating Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day on Market Street near Grant on August 15, 1945. About six months after the United States entered World War II, Congress enacted legislation to allow the Navy to accept female volunteers for the duration of the war plus six months. The idea behind the program was that women would take over jobs at U.S. Navy bases, freeing the men for sea duty during the war. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was instrumental in getting the law passed. Although many women who served during World War II left the services after the war, President Truman signed a new law in 1948 that allowed women to serve in the Army or Navy on a permanent basis. Women have been a critical part of the armed forces ever since.


1. “American Legion Rolls Out The Barrel,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 2, 1946, page 1.

2. “Vast Throng Sees City Turn Earth For Peace Temple,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1926, pages 1-2.