A sea of red, white and blue followed American Legion Family members as they marched their way up New York City's renowned Fifth Avenue on Monday for the nation's largest Veterans Day parade – America's Parade.
Thousands of spectators lined the sidewalks of the 1.4-mile parade route, waving American flags, holding signs thanking veterans for their service and applauding the sacrifices made by the men and women in uniform. Nearly 20,000 veterans, bands and youth groups marched in the parade – a parade that many Legionnaires had never attended before or missed last year because of Superstorm Sandy.
"After the year we had with Sandy, it's a great thing to be able to be here and march with my fellow Legionnaires," said Eugene O'Grady, a member of Post 232 in Barnegat, N.J. "It's a fitting end to everything that happened last year."
"Last year was the first time since 1995 that I had missed this parade due to Superstorm Sandy," said Harry Mcmahon, a member of Post 1404 in Broad Channel, N.Y. "It (America's Parade) is important because it brings attention to veterans nationwide, and it reminds people to not forget about the sacrifices that people have made over the last 240 years. The parade also makes you feel good to be recognized for your service."
This year's New York City Veterans Day parade marked the first time American Legion members marched together as a family instead of by their respective posts, squadrons or units. Department of New York Commander Ken Governor said that by marching as a family, "it's an opportunity to let the public know how we support the men and women in uniform, veterans, their families and our communities. This is an opportunity for us to put ourselves on the map. It's all about brand recognition."
"Women in Service" was the parade's theme, giving special recognition to the history of American women in uniform, while historical observations included the conclusion of the 60th Anniversary Commemoration of the Korean War, as well as the ongoing U.S. of American Vietnam War Commemoration.
"Being a Vietnam-era veteran, the Vietnam War veterans did not get a good welcome home, they didn't get a parade when they came back," said Department of New York Adjutant Jim Casey. "So for people to yell ‘thank you' and ‘we're proud of your service,' it's wonderful to see these men and women finally get their recognition. The American Legion is committed to the fact that what happened to Vietnam veterans will never happen again. You see it today with the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as they've gotten their parades, they've gotten their welcome home, and every day we thank them.
"Being the oldest veterans organization in the world, I think it's a wonderful thing to march in this parade and show these veterans and the community that we're people who care for them, we're people who will take care of them, and we're people who will stand up for their rights. We will never let them be forgotten again."
An American Legion float filled with Legionnaires followed the nearly 80 marching Legion family members to the end of the parade. Once out of the limelight, many Legionnaires reflected on why they marched and how it made them feel.
"To march and honor all the veterans who served before me, after and those that will serve in the future was a wonderful experience for me," Casey said.
"When I was coming over to the city on the train, I sat there looking out the window, going past all the places I haven't been in a long time, and I'm thinking about all the friends, all the people I've known and lost during my service in the military," said Walter Zjawin, a member of Post 65 in Metuchen, N.J. "I marched for all those who cannot do it because they're gone."
Sherrylee Govoni, a member of Post 331 in Stone Harbor, N.J., echoed Zjawin's sentiments. "I marched to honor and represent all those who couldn't march in today's parade because they paid the ultimate sacrifice," she said.