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Deborah Stapley
Orange County, Calif., LDS Church members prepare to march in the annual Swallows Day Parade.

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif — Each year, thousands of people gather to celebrate the return of the swallows to Southern California, signifying the beginning of spring. For the past few years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Orange County have joined in this celebration, marching in the Swallows Day Parade in San Juan Capistrano.

This year, 115 men, women and children dressed in clothes typical of the day Mormon Battalion members arrived in Orange County in 1847, marched in the annual event on March 22.

When Brigham Young petitioned LDS Church members to join the Mormon Battalion to fight in the Mexican American War in 1846, he promised them that their sacrifice would never be forgotten. An estimated 38,000 people watching the parade learned about the Mormon Battalion's contribution to Southern California history.

Paul Hoffman, a member of the Rancho Santa Margarita California Stake, has taken part in fulfilling the promise for the past eight years marching in the parade.

“Most people don’t realize the impact that the battalion had on Southern California; they created roads that would eventually be used by people migrating to California for the gold rush,” Hoffman said

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Nine-year-old Aaron Johnston, who marched in the parade for the first time, said, "I felt like a real battalion member, except their walk was a lot harder. … I'm glad people learned about the Mormon Battalion watching the parade. What they did was really important for California and the church."

Most people will not know about the sacrifice made by Mormon Battalion members or the contribution they made to Southern California, but because of experiences like the Swallows Day Parade, there are some people like 9-year-old Aaron who will never forget it.

Marci Sparks is a graduate of the University of Utah and Arizona State University and has currently set aside her passion for teaching to be a full time mom to three crazy, wonderful boys. EMAIL : marcisparks@hotmail.com