By Ms Kari Hawkins ( Redstone)November 16, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Lt. Gen. Richard Formica didn't stay on the reviewing stand for very long.
As soon as the color guard leading the Veterans Day parade Friday began its march in front of the reviewing stand, Formica jumped down from his designated spot as the parade reviewing officer so that he could be up front and center with the parade.
For the next two hours, he waved, encourage, saluted and expressed his sheer delight to the parade participants, saying "Thank you for being in the parade!," "Thank you for your service!" and "Thanks for sharing your Soldier with us!" And when it was strategically possible, he even shook hands and gave hugs to those passing by.
It was a rare expression from a three-star general, but one that everyone enjoyed.
"It's good to honor those who honor us," the SMDC commander said. "These people took the time to come honor our veterans. The least I can do is greet them and recognize their contributions."
The general's excitement never waned, even though he was charged with reviewing more than 150 parade entries and 500 individual pieces. As bands, military hardware, Scout troops, JROTC units, Cahaba Shriners, antique car owners and many other entries passed by, Formica made sure they knew he appreciated their effort.
"This is unbelievable," Formica said of his first Huntsville Veterans Day parade. "This is a noble and enthusiastic tribute to our veterans, to those who serve and who have served. This was huge, and it was well-attended and truly honored our veterans."
Veterans Day committee chairman Joe Fitzgerald was impressed with the turnout for the parade. There was a fear that a three-day weekend would find many out of town. But just the reverse happened, with thousands of spectators flooding downtown Huntsville for the parade.
"It's been absolutely wonderful. It couldn't be better," he said. "The weather is simply incredible for a parade.
"This is the biggest and hottest ticket in North Alabama and Huntsville and it always is every Veterans Day. This year was even more spectacular with the dedication of the memorial."
The new Veterans Memorial was dedicated prior to the parade in downtown Huntsville's Veterans Park. This year the parade route was also changed so that it started at the Veterans Park. That is a change that will remain permanent, Fitzgerald said.
"It works wonderfully," he said. "This is a very befitting starting point for one of the largest Veterans Day parades in the nation."
The crowd was huge at Veterans Park, thanks to a Veterans Memorial dedication ceremony prior to the parade that drew a crowd of more than 500.
"It's terrific. It brings tears to your eyes," Korean War veteran Jerry Tepper said as he visited the Veterans Memorial.
Tepper and his wife, Barbara, a Marshall Space Flight Center contractor, attend the Veterans Day parade every year. This year they came early for the memorial dedication.
"I'm a veteran and I want to be part of this," said Tepper, who has to use a wheelchair to get around. "It's a beautiful day for a patriotic parade. The day has been beautiful and inspiring."
The memorial dedication and parade were a family affair for many. It was the sixth parade for 8-year-old Zachary Grant, who enjoys everything about the parade, especially the candy. Zachary's dad, Gil Grant, said the parade is a family tradition.
"We like showing our support to those who have served and teaching our two kids about honoring those who serve," he said.
Chevy Swinford, a Marine veteran, brought his 3-year-old son Nathanial to the parade. The two were dressed in camouflage shirts and hats.
"This is the first Veterans Day that I have had off work so we came down here," he said.
"I want to instill in Nathaniel the values of what it is to be an American. This is a good time for me and him to be together. What the Marine Corps instilled in me and what my dad instilled in me, I want to instill in him."