Veterans/volunteers John Perry and David Carney visit the Veterans Memorial in downtown Huntsville.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Veteran and volunteer David Carney remembers standing in front of a bank in downtown Huntsville in 1970 and watching the Veterans Day Parade.

Little did he know that 30 years later, he would be instrumental in planning, executing and building the Veterans Day Parade -- and Veterans Day itself into the weeklong celebration that it is today.

Carney and his friend and fellow veteran John Perry sat down with the Rocket to discuss the changes in the parade over the years, and how what started as loosely organized activities around Veterans Day has transformed into the tightly orchestrated series of interconnected events that Veterans Week is today. Both of them are well-known in veterans circles, serving on the boards of numerous veterans organizations and helping to plan the Veterans Day Parade, the Veterans Day Dinner and the Veterans Day Breakfast. It was not always smooth sailing, as is probably to be expected when discussing one of the largest celebrations of veterans in the nation.

"The Veterans Day Parade is always on the 11th (of November)," Carney said. "But one year Veterans Day was on a Sunday. Somebody said that the parade was going to be on Sunday and my phone started ringing off the hook."

Perry and Carney remember the days when Veterans Day planning meetings were held at Lockheed Martin, with Lockheed director and former Association of the U.S. Army state president retired Brig. Gen. Bob Drolet overseeing the events. They reminisce about when the parade had two announcers, Lee Marshall and Max Bennett, who announced the parade before current announcer Liz Hurley took over duties.

The Veterans Day Parade route itself has shifted and morphed, as the downtown Veterans Memorial was built and began being utilized as a viewing area in 2005. The parade at that time reversed direction, but this year will be returning to its original direction for logistical reasons.

Carney has also been a key player in planning the AUSA-sponsored Veterans Week Dinner, which is no small undertaking with more than 800 attendees each year.

"The parade and dinner go hand-in-hand," Carney said. "The dinner used to be held the night before the parade, but (with the addition of the Marine anniversary dinner) is now held on Friday night."

This year, in addition to the annual dinner, breakfast and parade, the week began on Nov. 4 with the addition of a Vietnam War 50th anniversary lecture series that Perry is helping to coordinate.

Another recent addition to the schedule is the Semper Fi Task Force's Heroes Week, an annual event where the organization invites 30 wounded heroes representing all service branches from all over the United States, along with their spouses and caregivers, to Huntsville for a week of relaxation and recognition.

"Semper Fi has become one of the shining jewels of Veterans Week," Perry said.

These two men and friends, who served as back-to-back presidents of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, have been involved in virtually every aspect of Veterans Week from the ground up, helping to transform it into a week of celebration for veterans, their families and the entire Huntsville community.

"We have worked together for over 10 years and it has turned into a phenomenal event," Carney said. "And the tradition continues."

Page last updated Thu November 7th, 2013 at 11:21