It happened just before the float I was riding on turned the corner from College Street to Main Street. It was somewhere in the block just before the Rogers Hotel where the crowd was lined up 10 deep on both sides of the street and when they cheered, their collective voices reverberated off the building, creating a sound that lingered in the heart more so than the ears.
Having participated in last year’s Fourth of July Parade, I knew what to expect.
But there is no way you could truly be prepared when you see everyone along the street stand, cheer and applaud as your float passes by and you hear their voices ring through the din saying “thank you for your service.”
As I was during last year’s parade (when I reluctantly agreed to ride with the veterans at the request of David Hudgins and Perry Giles), I was truly humbled.
Even though I knew what to expect, there were several places along the parade route I had to reach my hand to my face and wipe away a tear to keep it from falling down my cheek.
For the better part of a decade, I politely declined every request to ride with the veterans in the parade. I believed the honor should be reserved for the men and women who served our nation in combat — and we have a lot of those veterans in our community.
I served in the Navy for most of the 1980s during the Cold War. I served with honor. I served with pride. But I just showed up for work every day and did my job.
David and Perry insisted the parade honor was for all veterans, regardless of when or where they served. It was, as they explained, a chance for the community to say “thank you” for everyone who served their country.
Until I actually participated, I didn’t understand. To be honest, I’m still having a difficult time getting my head around it. As I mentioned before, it is extremely humbling to have so many go out of their way to thank me for something I did nearly 30 years ago.
I’m grateful David and Perry kept asking me year after year. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to experience a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I say that because along the parade route, I recognized several veterans standing on the sidewalk cheering as our floats passed by. I imagine their reasons for not being on one of the floats are the same as mine for all those years I said no. And I admit, the reason I participated in the parade last year was because I was feeling guilty telling David and Perry no year after year and I didn’t want to let them down.
Next year, my prayer is those veterans I saw standing along the parade route change their mind and decide to join us on the floats. Every veteran deserves to share in that experience.
I think I can safely speak for all veterans when I say none of us need to be reminded of why we served. But it is truly a humbling experience to be told by thousands of our fellow citizens that our service, regardless of when or where we served, is honored and appreciated.
To all those who organized the parade and to thousands of residents along Saturday’s parade route, thank you for a wonderful experience I will never forget. I am truly humbled.