W ILKES-BARRE ‚?? The sunshine made it all that better for Linda Cunningham and her two granddaughters to be at the Wyoming Valley Veterans Day parade Sunday.
They attended church and got to the parade route early for a spot along South Main Street near the Midtown Village to view the 67th annual event in the sunshine under a blue sky in almost the middle of November.
‚??They wanted to come,‚?Ě the Wilkes-Barre grandmother said as Aubrielle Cunningham, 10, and 8-year-old Adriana watched a wave of motorcycles pass.
‚??It‚??s a beautiful day. And even if it wasn‚??t we‚??d all be here enjoying it,‚?Ě she said.
Aubrielle beamed at the curb and was specific about what she liked about the parade, ‚??The veterans.‚?Ě
Past and present members of the Armed Services, along with high school marching bands, fire trucks, police cars, floats and civic groups trekked east from the West Side across the Susquehanna River during the 90-minute parade on the holiday that has its roots in Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I in 1918.
A crowd two to three deep in spots lined the final stretch of the parade along South Main Street and on Public Square, where the reviewing stand was located. The numbers were similar at the start at Kingston Corners and patches of people formed along Market Street and into the city.
John Doll, 54, of the Allentown area, got a good look from his wheelchair. The Army veteran was among a small group from the VA medical center wheeled along the route.
‚??I was impressed at the turnout. Great,‚?Ě Doll said as he waited to board a bus for a drive to Kingston where he, Gordon Whitsitt and others would be treated at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Anthracite Post 283.
Whitsitt, 62, of Washington D.C., an Air Force veteran who said he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for three months before he was freed by U.S. forces, appreciated the attention shown to them along the parade route.
‚??Pennsylvania respects veterans more than any place I‚??ve been,‚?Ě Whitsitt said.
Dressed in red, white and blue and waving a handheld copy of the Stars and Stripes, Jim Walsh showed where his allegiance lay. The 87-year-old Wilkes-Barre man served in World War II. He was 18 when he joined the Army. Walsh has been prodding Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton and city council to fly the flag along city streets and was disheartened to see there were none hanging from the streetlights near the reviewing stand.
‚??Everything in American history is incorporated in the American flag,‚?Ě Walsh said.
Not far from Walsh, a red flag with the Marine Corps emblem and the words ‚??In loving memory,‚?Ě above a photo of Lance Cpl. Larry M. Johnson in his dress blues flapped atop a pole held by his stepfather Jeff Whitney, 51, of Scranton.
His 19-year-old stepson, a combat engineer, was killed on Feb. 18, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device was detonated in a bazaar. ‚??Another 40 days and he would have been home,‚?Ě Whitney said.
Whitney attended a veterans event on Courthouse Square in Scranton and traveled to Luzerne County for the parade. A photo of a helmeted Johnson in his fatigues hung from Whitney‚??s neck.
Whitney stood out among the crowd, but said he wasn‚??t trying to draw attention to himself.
‚??I do this for Larry and all the fallen soldiers of all the wars of all services,‚?Ě Whitney said.
Whether it was a one-man effort like Whitney‚??s or an organized tribute like the parade, the goal is to highlight the contributions of veterans and sacrifices made by members of the armed services, according to retired Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lynch of Hazleton. He served as reviewing officer of the parade and watched from a mobile stage on Public Square.
The parade serves a purpose because so few people in the country have any real connection with the military, he said.
‚??I think it‚??s important that the military continue to make that connection with the American people,‚?Ě Lynch said.