Palmetto Veterans Day parade includes more than 50 units and 1,000 JROTC members

vmannix@bradenton.comNovember 12, 2013 

PALMETTO -- Bill Tripp, Hector Rivera and Chris Landis may not know one another, but they welcomed each other's presence with a nod or salute Monday morning as they stood along 10th Avenue West.

Theirs was a quiet satisfaction.

They and every veteran in the vicinity of Sutton Park and beyond were the true honorees at the lively Veterans Day Parade, sponsored by the Manatee County Veterans Council.

"This brings back memories," said Tripp, 82, a Marine Korean War veteran.

"It gives me peace of mind, the recognition the community gives its veterans," said Rivera, 70, who crewed on a U.S. Navy warship during the Vietnam War era.

"Not everybody can do it. Not everybody wants to do it," said Landis, 31, a disabled U.S. Army veteran. "So it's a nice thank you for those who have."

There were color guards.

There were Manatee County high school Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps battalions.

There were Girl Scouts.

There were numerous veterans post floats.

There were patriot riders on motorcycles loud and proud.

The parade of more than 50 colorful units and floats got underway at the Manatee County Fairgrounds.

"It turned out great," said Donald Courtney, chairman of the Manatee County Veterans Council and Monday's emcee.

"Last year we had a low turnout because it was on a Sunday, but this year we got nice weather and a nice crowd. We're happy."

Patriotic music abounded, whether it was the Keys Four acapella national anthem, the Community Christian High School marching band, or Robin Fernandez's stirring "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful."

What also impressed officials and onlookers was the large JROTC contingent. According to County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle, the units from Bayshore, Lakewood Ranch, Manatee, Palmetto and Southeast comprised more than 1,000 students.

"It's so comforting to see kids who understand what it's all about," said the decorated former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, who was named Manatee County Veteran of the Year.

"It speaks well of our future, the possibility of those defending our freedom coming from our own community," said Ed Cleveland, another U.S. Air Force veteran and retired West Manatee fire chief.

Marching in the Veterans Day Parade meant a lot to the JROTC participants.

"It's an honor to be here," said Lakewood Ranch freshman Olivia Lersch. "This is the least I can do, pay my respect to people who have served."

"You see all those who have come before you and it's an inspiration going forward," said Manatee junior Jonathan Banks. "It builds your confidence, that others have done this, chosen the same path."

Retired Army Lt. Col. Lee Kichen was one who did, joining ROTC in college, and he, too, was impressed with what he saw.

"You hear so many negative things about kids today, but I think they're going to represent the best of their generation," said Monday's keynote speaker.

"The parents, teachers and veterans who work in those programs deserve credit."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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