The 103rd annual Veterans Day Parade stepped off at 26th Street and 5th Avenue on Nov. 11 in Midtown Manhattan under less than stellar weather conditions as the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole passed over the city.
However, the messy weather didn’t stop thousands of spectators along 5th Avenue from paying tribute to the brave service members who courageously served their country. Twenty thousand participants from across the United States representing every military service branch, marching bands, floats, youth cadets, and vintage military vehicles participated in the parade, which is produced by the United War Veterans Council.
The largest Armistice Day Parade in the nation began with a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the Eternal Light Flag Staff in Madison Square Park. Foreign allies, veteran representatives, and senior military leaders started the ceremony with a moment of silence at 11 a.m. — the exact time when World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918.
Among the dignitaries who attended the wreath-laying ceremony were Mayor Eric Adams, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Steven Poulin, Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro, NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Philippe Lavigne, and Vincent W. Patton III.
Patton III, the first African-American Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, served as this year’s parade Grand Marshal. Patton, who retired in 2002 after 30 years of service, received an email in early July informing him he was chosen as the parade’s ceremonial leader.
Patton, who spent two tours in New York City and attended the parade several times as a spectator, was surprised.
“This is the granddaddy of them all—the largest Veterans Day Parade in the world,” Patton said, referring to the commemoration of service. “And so I couldn’t feel anything less than being honored.”
And while Patton has a stellar record — he received a doctorate while in the Coast Guard — he said that this was for the people who helped him along the way.
“So this is their parade,” Patton said. “This is every veteran’s parade. I’m just the representative serving those hundreds, if not 1000s, of people who have helped me along the way.”
Patton’s message for young people who want to serve their country was that a military career was the most character-building profession and that the tools learned in the military would always be helpful.
“All of us have some level of character,” Patton said. “But it’s how the military brings it out and shines in such a way that it becomes one the most important and greatest assets that you as an individual will have. It will carry you through the rest of your life.”
His fondest memories are of the people he served with and seeing them “move up the ladder.”
“I can’t think enough about that,” Pattan reminisced. “I think about all the things I did in the Coast Guard, and there were some interesting things and so forth, but I can’t get past the people, the people who serve.”