Veterans Day will be different again this year in a nation still battling to escape the grip of a pandemic that has taken more than 750,000 American lives.
Traditional Veterans Day parades are back in vogue in many locations after a 2020 hiatus, when most events were held virtually. Still, lingering COVID-19 concerns have led some cities and communities to hold off on their parades for at least another year.
In New York City, veterans from all the services, backed by floats and marching bands, will parade on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue in the city's 102nd annual Veterans Day celebration Nov. 11.
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Veterans Day parades also are planned for Erie, Pennsylvania, and Columbus, Ohio. But Indianapolis and other cities are maintaining the virtual events from last year or planning substitutes for a parade.
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In Texas, Houston and Dallas are planning Veterans Day parades on Nov. 11, but San Antonio canceled its event because of COVID-19 public health concerns. Similar concerns have nixed the parade in Long Beach, California.
The reluctance of other cities to resume Veterans Day parades to guard against the pandemic was noted by Mark Otto, president of the United War Veterans Council, which is sponsoring the nation's biggest Veterans Day parade in New York City.
"With the uncertainty over COVID, I think we're very happy just to be enjoying a traditional parade again," said Otto, a former Marine corporal and veteran of the invasion of Panama and Operation Desert Storm.
"We're still going to be cautious, going to be safe, but it's going to mean a lot to New Yorkers since it's [this year] also the 20th anniversary of 9/11."
The parade -- featuring 200 marching units, floats, veterans of all services and vintage vehicles -- will step off at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 11 and proceed up Fifth Avenue from 28th to 45th Streets.
This year, the Air Force will be the parade's featured service, and Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr., the Air Force chief of staff, is expected to attend as a special guest.
Retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Carrick, who served more than 20 years with the New York Air National Guard's famed 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton, Long Island, was chosen as grand marshal for this year's New York parade. The 106th has participated in numerous sea rescues and combat zone deployments over the years, and was the first military search-and-rescue unit at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks.
Some cities have already held their events. In Philadelphia, 250 motorcyclists led the way Nov. 7 for 30 veterans organizations in a parade that started at Juniper and Market Streets.
The theme for Atlanta's Nov. 6 parade was "The Last Hundred Yards," honoring the infantry of the Army and Marine Corps. Charleston, South Carolina, held a parade and flyover Nov. 6. St. Louis' Nov. 6 parade went from Union Station along Market Street to the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.
In Denver, the Colorado Veterans Project held a "Stationary Parade" on Nov. 6 that allowed spectators to visit displays on the 16th Street Mall. "With the rise in the Delta variant and the closure of Civic Center Park, we decided to pivot to an open all-in-one event for the Parade & Festival to enable social distancing," the project said in a statement.
Otto said he had not detected any lack of enthusiasm or support for veterans as a result of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.
"I don't think Americans are going to feel any sense of negativity toward our troops as a result of what happened in Afghanistan," he said. "I think it's quite the opposite. When you're a service member, you don't get to pick the war you go to.
"They served with honor. They should have pride in their service and what they've done for our country. I only see support for our post 9/11 vets," Otto said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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