Gray clouds, sparse rain and cold winds couldn't dampen patriotic spirits Friday morning during the 93rd annual Veterans Day parade in downtown San Jose.
Thousands gathered at Plaza de Cesar Chavez for a special opening ceremony presided by several representatives from the United Veterans Council of Santa Clara County (UVC), government officials and many war veterans and Armed Forces personnel in active duty.
Huddled under a white tent raised up on a stage to protect themselves from the intermittent light rain, they took part in the brief service, which included the singing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the Colors.
The event's keynote speaker and parade grand marshal was Brigadier General Gary Medvigy, with the 351st Civil Affairs Command Moffet Federal Air Field in Mountain View.
Medvigy thanked the public for participating in the festivities and reminded everyone that one percent of the American population "is participating in our nation's security."
"That's a huge sacrifice for families, the soldiers themselves ... We really appreciate that you appreciate us," he said, adding that the one percent enlisted today is different than those who served during WWII, Vietnam and other conflicts. "Today, that one percent in uniform, is bearing the burden of everyone. It's so important that we remember them."
Medvigy recalled the Vietnam War and how that conflict created a difficult time for the country. "People just didn't appreciate those in uniform," he said. "They blamed them for the politics of the era ... They never really got the welcome they deserved until recently."
Today's generation, however, recognizes that those serving in the military are subordinates to the nation's government. "We simply are selflessly serving our nation," he noted.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren presented a resolution commending the UVC for its efforts every year to put on the parade and recognize the veterans. "All across the United States our fellow citizens have gathered today to thank those who stepped forward to serve their country," Lofgren said.
Like Medvigy, Lofgren reminded the public that those serving are not making foreign policy decisions for the national government. "They're making a moral decision to risk their lives for us. We owe them thanks and recognition and the services they need when they get back."
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President David Cortese was in attendance along with Assembly members Jim Beall and Paul Fong. All expressed gratitude for the veterans' sacrifices.
Ernest Glave, past president of the UVC, took time to acknowledge each veteran on the stage allowing them to introduce themselves. Some were WWII veterans, while others had served in the Korean War.
"I don't mind the liquid sunshine. Someone has to thank these guys for their selfless service," said one parade-goer, while holding an umbrella with one hand and waiving a small American flag with the other as the more than 100 parade entries made their way down eastward along Santa Clara Street.
A total of 104 entries were featured during the parade. They included marchers, floats, bands, ROTCs, military vehicles, dignitaries, Girl and Boy scouts among others.
Parade coordinator Ray Pulver wasn't sure how many people had attended the event, which he said normally attracts about 25,000. "We're the largest Veterans Day parade on the West Coast," he boasted. "It's an amazing event due to the number of participants, the diversity of the entries ... we have just about every war represented here today," he said.
Also noteworthy during the procession were volunteers who recreate the Civil and Revolutionary wars, said Pulver, who's coordinated the event for the past seven years and whose father was a veteran.
Livermore resident Sara Girotto said she drove all the way to San Jose to honor the veterans since she knows first-hand many have lost their lives while in service. "Regardless of how we feel about these conflicts, these guys just do the job, take orders and many have died defending our freedoms," she said.
Children lined up along Market Street were beaming with excitement when San Jose Sharks mascot S.J. Sharkie approached them while riding a bicycle. Then they received affectionate hugs from Big Bird.
"It's to honor everyone who's fought in a war," answered Ben Brigham, 10, when asked the purpose of the celebrations. "Lots died ... they died and never said goodbye to their families."