REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Laverne Arthur of New Market knew exactly what she was going to do when she awoke on Veterans Day.
With children serving in four branches of the military - "Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines" -- and married to a Vietnam era veteran who served as a Ranger with the 82nd Airborne, Arthur was headed with her husband Ron for the Veterans Day parade, ready to cheer on the Soldiers and all the local military, school and community organizations who were participating in the parade.
But along the way, she got a phone call from one of her sons with news that he would soon deploy to Afghanistan with his Army unit.
"That definitely brought tears to my eyes," said Arthur, standing along the parade route with a four-star Blue Star banner in one hand and a miniature U.S. flag in the other. "My children have all been to Iraq several times. Besides my Army son, my Marine son is on the USS Essex in Indonesia right now providing protection for the president, my daughter is in the Air Force and I have another son who is Navy EOD (explosive ordnance disposal)."
Arthur is proud of her children. But she's also proud of the Veterans Day Parade that she has enjoyed in Huntsville since moving here in 1999.
"This is so wonderful," she said of this year's parade. "We used to come with our grandchildren when they were little. We love being here. It's fantastic the support this community gives the military."
"This is one of the best parades I've ever seen," added her husband.
Part of Arthur's parade experience this year included a surprise visit from Lt. Gen. Jim Pillsbury, deputy commander of the Army Materiel Command, who, after serving as the parade's grand marshal, arrived at the reviewing stand and spied Arthur with her banner across the street. When there was a break in the parade, Pillsbury hurried over to speak to Arthur.
"He told me I have a beautiful smile. And he thanked me for what my children are doing," Arthur said.
All along the parade route there were plenty of beautiful smiles along with waving flags and red, white and blue signs expressing support and love for the military and the nation. About 15,000 spectators lined the parade route, and most remained for the two-and-a-half hours it took for the 142-entry parade to weave from the Von Braun Center, through downtown Huntsville and past the reviewing stand at Veterans Park.
"This parade represents a total commitment by North Alabama to our veterans," said reviewing officer Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, commander of the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.
Campbell's favorite part of the parade was seeing 31 wounded warriors riding and driving in Corvettes supplied by the Vettes for Vets Corvette Club. For the past four years, Vettes for Vets has been providing Corvettes so that wounded warriors hosted by the Semper Fi Community Task Force can ride in the parade.
A color guard from the 19th Alabama Regiment opened the parade, which included the Alabama A&M University band, several high school bands and JROTC units, Taekwondo and Boy Scout groups, Gold Star and Blue Star families, Cahaba Shrine, Patriot Guard Riders, Veterans Memorial Museum and several military organizations.
"The very best of America is about to pass in front of you," parade announcer Max Bennett told the crowd lining the street at Veterans Park.
Along the route, Air Force veteran Michael Weeks of Huntsville waved a large U.S. flag and thanked the Soldiers of the 59th Ordnance Brigade as they marched by, wishing them a "Happy Veterans Day."
"This is their day and it's our day to give them thanks. They really need to hear it," Weeks said of the Soldiers.
The Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army is a key supporter of the Veterans Day activities. About 40 volunteers, each representing a different military or community organization, participate in about five months of planning for the activities, including a dinner, breakfast and parade.
"AUSA is very excited about playing a part in this tremendous celebration in this community," said AUSA chapter president Steve Taylor, a retired colonel. "It's important for us to recognize our veterans and to teach our children about veterans. We focus a lot of our effort on activities surrounding Veterans Day. We do this because this is what we do, we support our Soldiers."
For retired Brig. Gen. Bob Drolet, who chairs the Veterans Day committee, all activities are designed to bring together both the Soldier of yesterday with the Soldiers of today and tomorrow.
"We are marrying up the heroes of the past and the heroes of the present," he said. "It's really powerful when you bring them together. Our reverence of veterans of the past sends a strong, clear message to those serving today that 'You will not be forgotten. We will remember you and we will honor you for your service.'
"That goes for our families of fallen Soldiers, too. They will forever be a part of the military family and we will not forget them. This all sends a powerful message."