Veterans Day parade special in Jacksonville

An event article on the Veterans Day parade in Jacksonville, Fla., published in The Florida Times-Union in November 2007. 

The crowd was dotted with people sporting red, white and blue clothing. All were clapping as high school marching bands, Navy cadets and motorcycle riders walked down Water Street on a sunny Monday morning.

People oohed and aahed as two helicopters – a Black Hawk and a Chinook – hovered over downtown Jacksonville.

This may seem like your typical Veterans Day parade. And in many ways, it is. But with Jacksonville’s large population of active and retired military, it’s more than music and huge Uncle Sam balloons that brought thousands of people there.

The parade is first and foremost a family thing, bringing parents, children and grandchildren together. And for many, it has been a longtime tradition.

“I haven’t missed one in 25 years,” Pastor Sims, a 72-year-old veteran, said. “It’s important to me. I get ready to come down, find some shade and enjoy.”

Jeanette Meadows, 73, and her son Richard Meadows, 43, said they came every year.

“I think it shows the support for the veterans, to let them know we haven’t forgotten about them,” Richard Meadows said.

Cecily Pate is a regular Veterans Day paradegoer as well.

“I [have] come every year since I was a little girl,” she said.

But this year is the first parade since her sister, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Laquita James, died on her way overseas in February. Both Pate and her daughter Juanyae were wearing T-shirts with a picture of James. The parade is an opportunity for Pate to explain things to her daughter.

“She wants to know which one [part of the military James] was in. The Navy people already passed, so I had to show her,” Pate said. “They need to learn that these people do a lot for our country.”

For Dale Airey, the parade is an opportunity to educate the younger generation.

“I have my granddaughter here, and her daddy just got back from Iraq, and her mom is going to Iraq in January,” Airey said. “We’re trying to make it important for her because you need to honor American veterans, and both her parents are serving.”

This was the second year Airey was able to watch the parade. Before that, he was up there marching as a NJROTC instructor at Forrest High School.

He is a retired Air Force man, and his wife was also in the Air Force.

In fact, a lot of people attending the parade knew someone in the military- whether it be a husband, nephew, cousin, sister or a grandson. And maybe that is why, in addition to cheering and clapping, the crowd was yelling out so many “thank-yous.”

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