San Diegans lined up along the Embarcadero Monday morning to celebrate the hundreds of thousands of U.S. military servicemembers who dedicated themselves to their country.
The 33rd annual Veterans Day Parade was one of several events across the county to honor San Diego's large military community.
This year's theme was “A Tribute to Vietnam Veterans,” and the era of Veterans was appreciative of the recognition but, as one Vietnam Veteran described, felt as if they were just “continuing the legacy of all Veterans.”
“I don’t look at it necessarily in my honor. I think we are honoring all the Veterans of all the years with a special look perhaps today to the Vietnam Veteran,” said 1st Class Machinist Veteran Bill O'Hara.
The procession began at 10 a.m. in front of the County Administration Building at the corner of North Harbor Drive near Grape Street and traveled along Broadway and past the USS Midway Museum, before ending on Pacific Highway at about noon.
O'Hara said he hopes young people see Veterans in the parade and are inspired to serve their country.
“I think it’s good to highlight it once in a while and, in the words of John Kennedy, 'Ask not, what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.' I think that’s often forgotten today,” he said.
Maria Benavides said her grandson, a Junior ROTC member, is one of those people inspired by the older generation of Veterans. Her husband served as a medivac in Vietnam, and while he couldn't watch his grandson in the parade, Benavides said he was, “super proud because he is carrying it on.”
She became emotional thinking of the sacrifices that generation of servicemembers made.
“In the 60s, a lot of our guys left, and a lot of them never came back,” Benavides said, holding back tears. “But that’s what I’m proud of, we gotta back them up all the way.”
Outside the USS Midway Museum was a tribute to servicemembers who made the ultimate sacrifice to their country. Veterans set up an Arlington Cemetery-esque memorial on the front lawn using special memorial markers to represent those who died during their service.
Stan Levin, who served during the Korean War, said he hopes people feel a “wave of sadness” at the cemetery tribute.
“We work very long and hard at trying to stop wars,” Levin said. “We have been to war, and let me tell you, it’s not John Wayne. And it’s worth stopping. It’s not worth doing, almost ever.”
And while the day included moments of reflection, this Veterans Day was also a way to celebrate the people who serve.
Onboard the USS Midway Museum, NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 were hosting the annual Salute to Service Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Entertainment and festivities were held aboard the ship -- free for active duty and veteran servicemembers and their families with military ID.
“It’s just a really special event for families, and it’s so nice that we can come up here, and you have all of these vendors and all this information, and it’s just a really nice, special day for the family to get to see where a lot of our family members go,” said military spouse Andrea Kennedy.
Kennedy’s husband is an active-duty servicemember for the U.S. Navy.
“The San Diego community is so welcoming and really makes having a deployed loved one so much easier,” she told NBC 7.
GM Ken Guyer and DeDe Barrios volunteer at the USS Midway Museum, which Guyer said is like having a “mini Veterans Day every day.”
“It’s great seeing everybody out honoring veterans, and I feel proud to be a part of it,” Guyer said. “Walking around on the Midway and meeting people from all different services who are basically do the same thing, just enjoying the day for veterans.”
Barrios said the museum will be “here for generations to come.”
“(The USS Midway Museum) stands for the military, and it’s just wonderful,” Barrios told NBC 7.
Following the Veterans Day Parade, country music star Coffey Anderson and comedian Heather Marie were scheduled to perform a free Veterans Day concert at the Broadway Pier, where a host of Fleet Week San Diego events have been held to honor servicemembers. For more information about the concert, visit here.
With a half-dozen military bases and more than 100,000 enlisted servicemembers, San Diego has one of the largest military populations in the country.
Other Veterans Day events include:
9:30 a.m., Grand Avenue
Dozens of floats are expected to travel down the parade route in downtown Escondido for the inaugural VetFest.
Sounds of Freedom Concert
2 to 6 p.m., Quartyard San Diego
The East Village community square, Quartyard, will host a concert by Original Grain and others to celebrate local veterans.
Miramar National Cemetery
3:30 p.m., Miramar National Cemetery
A tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War will be held at the Miramar National Cemetery starting at 3:30 p.m.
La Mesa WWII Vets Honored
10:30 a.m., Westmont of La Mesa
Sharp HealthCare will hold a celebration at the senior living community in La Mesa. The Color Guard and a pinning ceremony will be held.