Veterans Day parade draws a diverse crowd in Manchester

Nov. 11—MANCHESTER — Two men puffing on cigars outside an Elm Street shop clapped as the Veterans Day parade marched past them on Friday.

A homeless, Vietnam-era vet watched veterans and military vehicles pass by — two U.S. flags tucked into a nearby shopping cart with his possessions.

And former Manchester Mayor Sylvio Dupuis, who's been coming to the parade for at least the past 70 years, held a flag that a kid had loaned him.

"I wouldn't miss one of these," said Dupuis, 89. "It's important to maintain all those old traditions."

The mile-plus parade route started at Webster and Elm streets and ended near Veterans Memorial Park, where a 25-minute ceremony included playing taps and laying a wreath.

Dan Beliveau, commander of the Manchester Veterans Council, said many veterans suffer from injuries and ailments caused while serving their country.

"It is up to us to ensure that they always have access to high-quality health care and benefits, reflecting the thanks of our great nation," Beliveau said during the ceremony.

"It is fitting that Veterans Day we observe so close to election day. It is, after all, the veterans who have preserved our constitutional rights for 246 years," he said.

Former parade watcher-turned-marcher Devon Thompson wore a red "USMC" hoodie because his grandfather served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"I'm just here to honor everyone who put on a uniform," Thompson, 19, of Manchester, said before the parade. "Show the American pride and patriotism."

Brothers Owen and Colby Walker want to serve their communities — in another decade or two.

"They are the most patriotic kids in New Hampshire," said their mother, Anna, who spread a blanket for the family. "Even around the house, they'll have parades with flags. This is right up their alley."

Owen, 5, wants to be a police officer while Colby, 2, wishes to be a firefighter. Both wore plastic fire hats.

The parade included bands from the city's three public high schools, military vehicles and antique cars.

Above-average temperatures convinced some parade watchers to don shorts.

Two guys wearing "Daghir Auto" work shirts stood at Myrtle and Elm streets, taking a break from a work day.

"My son's a Marine veteran" who served in Iraq, said shop owner Sam Daghir.

He said the public turnout for the parade "could be better."

Compared to decades ago, there are "a lot less people" attending, Dupuis said.

Those watching included a construction crew, including one guy holding a "SLOW" sign, as well as a teen clad in a hoodie, his right foot tapping to the patriotic tunes of the West High School band.

Dozens of dogs joined their owners.

Vietnam-era vet Mike McGann, 73, wore a U.S. Marine Corps cap.

It was important for people to attend parades such as this one to show other countries that "America is still alive," said McGann, who has been sleeping outside at night because of a dispute regarding a house where he was living.

Bernardo Perez, a Puerto Rican native drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in Vietnam, said he appreciated the outpouring for support from the public at the annual parade.

The Manchester resident recalled how times have changed.

"The people didn't celebrate or acknowledge them when they came back from Vietnam," Perez said through translation help from his daughter, Nilsa Boss.

mcousineau@unionleader.com