From 2 to 92, they came to thank veterans in Manchester
NAVY Junior ROTC cadet Chris Duguay, 16, a freshman at Manchester High School West, was one of the first to arrive at the gas station parking lot at Webster and Elm streets, where the city's Veterans Day Parade was scheduled to step off at 10:30 a.m.
"I've had family members that died fighting in the Navy," he said. "I'm here to honor their sacrifice."
Monday's parade was his first as a participant, but it wasn't the first he's attended.
"I've been here every year since I was a kid, even if my parents couldn't make it," he said. "I've always come downtown to show my support."
Parade Marshal Aurel Stuart, 92, a World War II veteran rode in the lead car with Mayor Ted Gatsas as the parade wound its way from the Webster Street intersection to City Hall, ending at Veterans Memorial Park.
Jack Blais of Manchester, a retired Army E-4, watched the City Hall ceremony from across the street. He's marched in past parades, and though pleased with the turnout under sunny skies on Monday, he said the lines of spectators and the number of units marching have diminished in recent years.
"A good turnout, but not what I'd like to see," he said. Blais said he lost five fellow soldiers, close friends, in 1969 in Vietnam just five days before they were scheduled to come home. "I'm here every year for them," he said.
The procession stopped at City Hall Plaza for the first playing of taps, and then continued to Veterans Memorial Park, where Stuart spoke briefly about his experience as a World War II bombardier who saw firsthand the horrors of D-Day.
The Tony Karam Award for service to veterans was presented to parade Chairman Ron Boisvert, followed by the placing of the wreath at the Veterans Memorial, firing of a volley, the second rendition of taps and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro spoke briefly about a friend who fought in Vietnam and remains an MIA, while Gatsas reminded the crowd of the many homeless veterans in Manchester and beyond.
"The one thing we must always keep in our minds now and forever is finding a place for every veteran to call home, because far too many of them are homeless," he said. "Let's find a way to house our veterans."
John Harrelson, 28, is one of those homeless veterans. He was at the starting point for the parade on his bicycle an hour early. A native of Houston who said he served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2012, he now travels the country with his belongings in a backpack, taking odd jobs as a roofer, landscaper or painter.
His most recent address? The New Horizons homeless shelter and soup kitchen on Manchester Street.
The parade organizers put him in with the Nam Knights Motor Cycle Club. With an MIA flag flying from one handlebar, an American flag on the other, he proudly took his place in the lineup.
As the ceremonies ended at Veterans Memorial Park and the crowd dispersed, he could be seen pedaling slowly back north on Elm Street, both flags flying in the stiff breeze.