A man who appeared to be in his 30s walked with purpose Saturday morning along Centre St. in Fernandina Beach with a bold message on his bright red t-shirt: ‘Home of the Free Because of the Brave.’
He smiled and nodded to people, some with dogs—all with appreciation, standing by a red restaurant and an antiques store known for its broad selection of ‘trailer trash’ and a parrot that sleeps in a cage by the window.
The Pirate’s Club had just rolled by in its ship to end the city’s annual Veterans Day Parade (note: every parade in Fernandina ends with the much anticipated arrival of the pirate ship) and people were in a celebratory mood.
“That’s right buddy!” said a parade-goer after spotting the t-shirt.
Veterans Day is celebrated annually on Nov. 11 to honor the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. In Fernandina, the celebration included a march around the downtown historic district.
There were veterans of Foreign Wars, scouts from local troops, dancers from the Bean School, Shriners in a crazy car, veterans with an aficionado for jeeps, the high school marching band, and pirates, among others.
“It’s Veterans Day,” said Marissa Moore of Fernandina Beach. “We’re here to show support and thank you to our vets.”
Melita Hubbard, also a city resident, agreed.
“We’re here to show support for our veterans and all of our family and friends who served,” she said. “It’s a community thing and we’re here to support everyone.”
Dick Knapp of Yulee said he had relatives who served in the military.
“We’re here to honor America and our veterans,” said Mr. Knapp. “They seem to be forgotten. We’re showing unity.”
Jim Laffey, who served as an army medic in the early 1950s (he was studying to be a pharmacist), said he didn’t want Americans to forget the people who served the country at home or overseas.
“Under our new president they won’t be forgotten,” he said. “At least I hope not.”
There are 18.5 million veterans in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. About 1.5 million of them reside in Florida.
Saturday’s parade stepped off at 11:00 a.m. at Central Park and headed west along Ash St. before turning north on 2nd St. and then east on Centre St. before heading back to the park where the parade ended.
Along the parade route, onlookers waved American flags and scrambled for candy and colorful beads tossed in the streets.
The day was warm and windy and the crowd seemed larger than last year. At least Vietnam Vets Ron and Marj Dutilly (who met in Danang in 1971 and have been married more than 40 years) thought so. They’ve been coming to the parade for the past 14 years.
“I was so pleased to see the crowd,” said Mr. Dutilly.
“This is great,” said Mrs. Dutilly. “We wouldn’t miss it.”