Posted on November 11, 2012 at 2:16 PM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nearly 30 years ago, John Keey was rounding out his last year serving in the U.S. Marine Corps when his unit got called to Beirut, Lebanon.
Those memories are still fresh in the Charlotte native’s mind. He can still picture buildings collapsed after bombing raids, bulldozed dirt roads and watering holes that often doubled as cesspools.
Similar memories were easy to come by in uptown Charlotte over the weekend. Keey, along with an estimated 2,000 spectators, lined Tryon Street early Saturday to honor individuals for their service to the United States in the US Airways Salute to Veterans Parade.
Area high school marching bands, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps units, politicians, active soldiers and local veterans organizations were among the groups marching to celebrate those who have served. Carolinas Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit aiming to aid Charlotte-area veterans, sponsored the event.
Keey also attended to support his son, Jonathan Keey, who marched in the parade with the Butler High School drill team. “We’re here to watch him march and hope he keeps in step the whole way down,” he said.
A large American flag draped from a crane served as the backdrop for the start of the parade. Drummers, muscle cars, local mascots and firetrucks were all a part of the morning festivities as military hymns played on bagpipes echoed through the city streets.
William Mack Hylton, a World War II veteran, attended the parade with his son, Gary Hylton, a Vietnam War veteran. Gary Hylton found the two a sunny spot on South Tryon to enjoy the parade, and they watched Gary’s son march in the event.
Gary Hylton served in the U.S. Air Force. His first sight of war coincided with the start of the Tet Offensive, a surprise attack on South Vietnamese cities launched in January 1968.
William Mack Hylton entered World War II in early 1942, stationed in Iceland. To troops currently overseas, the 92-year-old veteran said: “Serve it with pride.”
Julie Lesslie of Matthews attended the parade with several family members for the first time.
“This is a great way to remember what our veterans have done for us,” she said.
For reveler Shirley Lesslie of Matthews, attending a Veterans Day parade is tradition. As a little girl living in Cleveland, she recalls her father taking her to the parade every year. And every year, he bought her a poppy flower to pin to her coat.
“It was his one splurge,” she said, smiling. This is her first year attending the Charlotte parade, but she plans to come again next year to support the troops.
Lesslie said she wants soldiers overseas to know, “We are praying for them every day.”