JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
Service members marched with heads held high and marching bands stepped in sync to the beat of drums. Children on floats yelled "thank you," as they waved flags. Veterans saluted, their feelings of pride growing as the parade passed by, commemorating their service.
More than 2,000 people with various organizations marched to show appreciation and honor to service members and their families during the Veterans Day Parade in Jacksonville, N.C., Nov. 5.
Families gathered along the roadside to cheer and watch the floats, which stretched from Coastal Carolina Community College all the way down Western Boulevard, ending near the Brynn Marr Shopping Center. This was the first time the parade was recognized as an official state Veterans Day event by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
It was a chilly morning. Spectators wore sweaters and some wrapped themselves in blankets while they watched the parade, but the cold could not dampen the spirits of those who attended. The 2nd Marine Division Band was the first to energize onlookers with their music while 425 students from seven different local high school marching bands united, playing instruments in harmony and instilling the spirit of a true parade.
"I was very happy with the parade," said Nicole Blosser, a member of the local community who attended the event with her family. "I think that we're all in unison when I say that we're proud of them and what they do."
Members of the community understand the importance and value of having a close relationship with the military.
"The military is a big part of why our town is here," added Joseph, Blosser's husband. "Without the military, Jacksonville might be in some pretty poor shape. Without the military, we wouldn't have some of the freedoms that we have today. I appreciate everything that the service members do for us. Service members and their families make a lot of sacrifices."
Guy Hunter, retired chief warrant officer 5, was selected to be the grand marshal in honor of the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. He was a prisoner of war during the Gulf War.
While conducting a reconnaissance flight to direct air strikes at Iraqi artillery positions, Hunter's aircraft was shot down by a missile. Hunter was knocked unconscious from the explosion luckily the Marine on board with him managed to eject them both before the plane crashed, barely escaping death. Their situation worsened when an Iraqi infantry division captured them and for the next month and a half they were interrogated and tortured.
"After the crash, the first thing I said when I came to was ‘this is not good,'" said Hunter. "It was quite an experience and I don't have any regrets. I'm proud to have served my country."
This is one of many stories written in history about the hardship service members endure and the sacrifices they make for their country. To honor military members, communities throughout the nation continue to hold parades to thank and support the men and women who protect our country.
"I think that it's a very important celebration for the (service members) who have fought, defended and died for our country," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua M. Phillips, a corpsman with Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.