For decades, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month each year, America has gathered together to honor the men and women responsible for defending our country and preserving our national spirit. Ceremonies, parades and celebratory festivities abound from the east to west coasts, all highlighting each branch of our national military service while thousands of civilians line the streets, cheering, clapping and demonstrating unwavering patriotic support for their hometown heroes. While cities commemorate the occasion in a variety of ways, there are some places that really go above and beyond to make sure U.S. veterans know how integral they are to the American fabric. Here’s a roundup of the country’s top 6 Veteran’s Day parades.
America’s Parade—New York City
Known simply, and aptly, as “America’s Parade,” NYC’s annual Veterans Day blowout—the largest in the country—pulls out all the stops for a celebration lasting more than five hours. The parade is preceded by a traditional opening ceremony at 10 a.m., followed directly by a wreath-laying ceremony at 11 a.m. (signifying the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). The parade, which spans a 1.3-mile stretch along 5th Avenue from 26th to 52nd Street, features more than 250 groups and 20,000 participants. This parade’s specific theme is geared toward commemorating the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end, as well as the 25th Anniversary of Desert Shield. The groups featured include veterans past and present, representatives from military units, America’s top high school marching bands and civic and youth groups, such as Junior ROTC. Mixed with a healthy interspersing of floats and vintage military vehicles, the paraded service men and women attract more than a whopping half a million viewers each year—a symbolic testament to the power of national community.
Birmingham, AL Veterans Day Parade
One of Alabama’s most historic cities takes notable pride in their Veteran’s Day commemorative celebrations, and for good reason—it was here that the first official Veterans Day festivities were held. If it wouldn’t have been for World War II veteran and Birmingham-native Raymond Weeks, we might not be celebrating a national veteran’s holiday at all. After the war ended in 1945, Weeks concocted the idea of expanding what was then known as Armistice Day (a national holiday celebrating World War I veterans specifically) to include the celebration of all veterans, past and present. He presented his case to the then-Army Chief of Staff Dwight Eisenhower, who, in 1954 after acquiring the presidency, passed legislation to change November 11th to Veterans Day. The first-ever Veterans Day parade, however, was orchestrated in Birmingham by Weeks in 1947, seven years before the occasion was even officiated congressionally.
“Save the Parade”—Los Vegas, NV
Taglined the “biggest Veterans Day parade west of the Mississippi,” the City of Lights’ annual celebration is one of the nation’s most illustrious. An estimated 10,000 supporters will gather along the stretch of road to rally alongside the more than 100 parade entrants. This year’s celebration, in particular, signifies Las Vegas’ tradition as one built upon a strong foundation of communal support. Themed “Save the Parade,” this year’s festivities did not receive any grants, according to Nevada House Representative Joe Heck, so some of the major sponsors contributed roughly $30,000 to keep the event spirit alive and well. This Veterans Day parade also contains another special occasion for Los Vegas—at the close of the parade, there will be a ceremony celebrating the groundbreaking of the city’s long-awaited veterans memorial.
“No Longer Forgotten” Parade—Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix has a well-known history of choreographing very ornamental tributes to honor their veterans. Planned by a non-profit committee of solely volunteers, this year’s parade is themed “No Longer Forgotten,” and will specifically commemorate Korean War veterans alongside their military brothers and sisters. With 45,000 attendees expected to congregate and 100 parade entries, the event promises an unforgettable and moving lineup. Participants and viewers alike can expect features like helium balloons, Veterans Services organizations, featured youth groups, military flyovers, equestrian units, and, as an emblem of the city’s ample patriotism, a 30×60 foot American flag carried down the route.
Veteran’s Homecoming Week—Branson, MO
Appreciated as the largest celebration of its kind throughout the country, Branson’s annual “Veterans Homecoming” tributes span the course of a week and culminate with the Veterans Day Parade, attracting thousands of viewers and participants and showcasing the gamut of great American heroes both past and present. The week-long festivities leave nothing to be ignored, from formal events like banquets and galas, to more adventurous activities like hot air balloon shows—the community of veterans and supporters within this community certainly don’t skimp on showing America’s military the extent of their appreciation.
Houston Salutes American Heroes Day—Houston, TX
The Lone Star State’s populous city takes an admirably proactive approach to Veterans Day Celebrations, which, in the “go big or go home” fashion of Texas, includes a monumental parade of thousands. Earlier in the day, however, before the parading festivities begin, the “Houston Salutes American Heroes” event begins by hosting the AT&T Job and Resource Fair, organized with the help of 30-plus corporations to recruit and offer employment resources for veterans. Other notable events include free health screenings and flu vaccinations provided free to veterans by the US Family Health Plan Health Fair, a 21-gun salute, address by a keynote speaker, and formal ceremony to salute the area’s veterans and military personnel.