Changing day of event boosts parade attendance
Seven-year-old Ava Lippert, proud of her Air Force mom, flashed a shy smile and held her heart-shaped American flag high each time a veteran passed her along Liberty Avenue early Saturday.
She joined her grandmother, Sue Lippert, 58, who makes it a point to attend the city’s annual Veterans Day parade every year.
“It’s just something that we need to do,” she said. “We need to thank them for our freedom — the rights that we have in the U.S. are unmatched.”
The city’s 95th annual Veterans Day parade and ensuing Steel City Salutes the Troops celebration in Point State Park drew thousands Downtown Saturday.
For World War II vet Hartley Bard, 90, the historical military vehicles conjured vivid images of his time in combat, along with sorrow for fellow servicemen who never returned home.
“I truly would be a pile of dust on the beaches of Normandy if I hadn’t been able to transfer out of the ground infantry” shortly before D-Day, June 6, 1944, the World War II invasion that claimed the lives of more than 10,000 members of the Allied forces.
This year’s parade featured roughly 80 organizations and veterans groups starting along Grant Street before heading northwest down Fifth Avenue and veering left onto Stanwix Street.
“People forget, and this is a good reminder,” said Cassie Hagan, a former Navy service member who moved Downtown from Charlotte, North Carolina three weeks ago.
Organizers moved the event, usually held on Veterans Day, to the weekend before the Tuesday holiday in hopes of drawing a larger crowd after dismal turnout in 2013. An official crowd count wasn’t immediately available, but spectators who have attended the parade for years said the turnout seemed to be at least double the size of last year’s.
The parade ended at the entrance to Point State Park, where an inaugural open-house veterans celebration, Steel City Salutes the Troops, carried into the late afternoon. A similar event in Philadelphia has drawn large crowds there the past four years.
The Point State Park event included live music and food, interactive displays of military equipment and vehicles and booths by military representatives from the National Guard, Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps Reserve and Coast Guard. The 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard put on the event, with help from the state Department of Conservation of Natural Resources and the Association of the U.S. Army.
The day concluded with a swearing-in ceremony for recruits to each branch of the military — about 50 in all — by Major Gen. Wesley Craig, adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
With military flags flanking him and the fountain rising high behind him, Craig paid homage to the military history of the Point, where colonial French and English forces battled for control of the westward passage offered by the rivers.
“To have the chance to swear in those men and women, that was a great opportunity for me,” Craig said a few minutes after administering the oath of enlistment.
Organizers plan to expand the event next year to include fundraising for veteran support groups, said Matt Green, manager of Point State Park.
With the region’s history of military service and its large number of veterans, the “warrior community” is woven into the Western Pennsylvania’s social fabric through the families, employers and neighbors of war fighters, said Carlos Carmona, president of the Fort Pitt Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, which helped organize the event.
“There isn’t a soldier, sailor or airman out here who didn’t have someone come up to them today and say ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” Carmona said.
Staff writer Mike Wereschagin contributed.
Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or [email protected]. Staff writer Mike Wereschagin contributed to this report.