Home of the Brave: 22 Best Veterans Day Celebrations

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Melissa Ransom and her daughters participate in the annual Flags Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 5, 2016.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Melissa Ransom and her daughters participate in the annual Flags Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 5, 2016. (PO2 Lisa Ferdinando/U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Across the nation, citizens of the USA take the time to recognize those who served in our country's military. Veterans Day is our chance to say "thank you" to our former and current soldiers in a public forum.

While many fantastic celebrations take place in big cities, with famous former soldiers and political leaders carrying U.S. military parade flags and wowing the crowds, heartfelt, memorable ceremonies also take place elsewhere.

Here is a look at some of the most notable Veterans Day parades and services happening all over our country.

1. Chillicothe, Illinois

This small Midwestern town made headlines in "Reader's Digest" when a Boy Scout, up for his promotion to Eagle Scout, made a documentary about veterans in his town.

The scout was named Mitchell Woods, and he interviewed more than 30 World War II veterans to make an hourlong film in 2014. He also organized the community to honor the local vets in his town. Today, thanks to his efforts, the town has an ongoing effort to create a memorial so it can honor soldiers all year long.

2. New York City

A 16-year-old celebration in our country's biggest city, the parade that happens every year in the Big Apple is known as America's Parade. Heavy with military flags lining the parade route and carried by marchers, the event focuses on veterans and first responders, such as firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

The parade lasts about 30 minutes and gives anyone helping veterans in the nonprofit sector a chance to march and be recognized. About 250 groups and 20,0000 individuals all walk together in this massive parade, making it a truly exciting event.

3. Bedford, New Hampshire

The town of Bedford takes a very sweet and cozy approach to its vets. It plans an hourlong ceremony to honor those who have served, also ensuring the kids also have a chance to get involved. Located in the Bedford Town Hall, the gathering puts the spotlight on the local vets, as retired soldiers are invited to speak. The Bedford Friendship Quilt Guild presents veterans with quilts of appreciation, and there is a concert celebrating patriotism. It's a great way to go beyond the traditional military gifts to let every veteran know they are appreciated.

4. Simi Valley, California

If you happen to be in California, visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for one of the coolest celebrations in the country. There is an honor guard and live music to get things going, and this year, the celebration will continue with a speech from Bryan Anderson, the author of "No Turning Back." A Civil War encampment happens every year to demonstrate the drama and tragedy of war, and this year, there will also be a documentary screening.

5. Houston

Houston takes its celebration for veterans and turns it into an opportunity for them to talk with medical specialists, find a new job and receive recognition, all in one great event.

As a big city, Houston puts together a massive parade, honored by visiting veterans. The city takes advantage of the large veteran presence by setting up a job, resource and health fair for active and inactive veterans.

More than 30 corporations are on hand to talk about job opportunities, and free screenings are available for anyone in pain or just wanting to chat with a doctor. The day also has a formal ceremony and a high-spirited, 21-gun salute to honor the troops.

6. Auburn, Washington

A small town on the west coast, Auburn has the honor of hosting one of the country's biggest parades. Walking down a classic, American Main Street through the city's downtown area, the parade boasts high-school marching bands, veterans' units, honor guards and military vehicles. This year's parade is projected to be populated by more than 200 units and a whopping 6,000 participants. Not bad for an old-fashioned Main Street.

7. Lewiston, Idaho

This is a younger celebration, only six years old, and definitely worth visiting if you're in the Gem State. Lewiston's parade will start at 11:11 a.m. in order to recall the eleventh day, in the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, to commemorate the first Veterans Day parade in 2011.

The march goes straight down Main Street in downtown Lewiston. Past parades have featured veterans and vehicles from the attack on Pearl Harbor, members of the Nez Perce tribe who have served the USA, as well as vets from the Korean War. It's a smaller but very traditional, fun parade, quite worthy of your cheers.

8. Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham has the honor of being the home of Raymond Weeks, one of the individuals credited with the creation of Veterans Day. Birmingham does him proud with a turnout of more than 80,000 guests each year.

The city also holds a memorial service in honor of his service and hard work as a vet, along with a National Veterans Award Dinner and World Peace Luncheon. It's a great parade to visit if you're in the South.

9. Branson, Missouri

This town doesn't stop at a single parade. Branson honors veterans with an entire week of events. Branding itself as the Veterans Homecoming, this year's Veteran's Week will include a Military Film Festival, a World War II mini-reunion, a Sporting Clays Shoot and a Veteran's Spouses Luncheon, but there is a whole calendar of events. Check out the Branson official website for more information on their plans and go in person to see just how much the city loves its vets.

10. Los Angeles

Stepping up to honor former soldiers is the highly interactive and very visible Battleship USS Iowa Museum, an attraction that holds patriotic events all year long and makes November extra special. The museum kicks things off with a massive music festival, gives discounted tours of the ships to anyone accompanying a vet and has a sailor's bar for those of age. It offers a very different approach but one that the whole family can get in on as they salute the troops.

11. Petaluma, California

This parade has been jazzed over the years with some fun additions. Past marches have included Clydesdale horses, flyovers from Nanchang airplanes and performances by the fabulous USAF Jazz Band.

For those wanting to party in the name of former soldiers, two brewing companies make an appearance to keep the beer flowing. The parade is lively and full of surprises, like classic cars.

12. Jacksonville, Florida

This parade is fun because of the participation from the crowd along the parade route. All attending are encouraged to wear red, white and blue and bring homemade signs to hold up for those marching to show their appreciation.

The event includes active military members, junior ROTC students and veterans all marching together, and it is one of the largest in the Southeast.

13. Albany & Linn County, Oregon

Albany likes to honor its veterans with lots of great hospitality and a huge parade every year. The march starts with a fun motorcycle honor guard, and this year's will feature classic cars, scout troops and commemorative floats to honor those who have served. You can follow the progress of the parade from the official Facebook page as it all comes together.

Other events include a pancake breakfast at the local high school and a free coffee and hot cocoa service outside the Albany Visitors Association. Get a taste of this hospitality for yourself this November.

14. Chicago

Chicago offers a very different kind of commemoration by setting up a special exhibition each November in the National Veterans Art Museum.

While the museum features artwork made by vets all year long, it stays open late on Veterans Day to make sure anyone who wants to see their collection of more than 2,0000 pieces of combat-inspired works gets a chance to wander in. It hosts a lot of great events for vets and gives the veterans in the Chicago area a fun community that loves them and helps them reacclimate.

15. Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington's famous cemetery includes the Tomb of the Unknowns that marks the deaths of those who were never identified. This monument is the site of the annual wreath-laying ceremony, which is free to the public. A memorial service is also held, and music is played to remember those who didn't make it home. A more solemn choice, this ceremony is a beautiful one to attend as a citizen or a vet.

16. Washington, DC

Washington, D.C., is a great place to be if you're a presidential history buff and wanting to honor your country's servicemen and women. Wreath-laying ceremonies happen at memorials throughout the city, including the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Other events include an opportunity to hear true stories from the veterans at the Vietnam Women's Memorial and free admission for veterans and active military personnel to Mount Vernon Estate, where George Washington once lived.

17. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson loves to support its military and veterans communities in a lot of ways. In past years, the city has raised money for nonprofits that help soldiers readjust after coming home by selling paper boots at private stores. In two years, the project raised more than $25,000.

18. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque likes to pepper events for Veterans Day all through the city, as well as hold a grand parade featuring perfectly restored historical military vehicles from different battles. Other ceremonies during last year's celebration included a chance to lay to rest some of the unclaimed, cremated remains of soldiers who died in combat, along with formal flag ceremonies. It's beautiful to see how seriously the city takes this holiday and the extensive ways it finds to honor those who fought for us.

19. Denver

Denver puts together a huge celebration in Civic Center Park every year, complete with tons of food from local food trucks, displays of current and vintage military uniforms and vehicles, as well as a parade full of proud vets.

The city also hosts an intense run that raises money for the Colorado Veterans Project. Runners can take on the 10K, the 5K or a 10K rucksack race complete with an award ceremony at the end. The event is one of the many efforts to raise awareness and patriotism while giving families a fun day at the park.

20. Anchorage, Alaska

If you're located in the country's far north, you can still celebrate in style in the city of Anchorage. The city spreads out the holiday over a range of events, including a Veterans Day Dinner at the Elks Lodge, free meals for vets at different restaurants all over town and a fun outdoor festival to balance out the more solemn memorials. Residents of Anchorage can choose from tons of different benefits and ways to remember to keep them connected to their local vets.

21. The Islands of Hawaii

Hawaii spreads the love for veterans across its many islands in the form of small ceremonies all over the state. Restaurants across Hawaii offer free food to anyone in uniform. Vets can take advantage of free appetizers at steakhouses and free bowls of pasta, as well as a free dessert from ice cream parlors.

22. Walt Disney World, Orlando

November is a great time to visit this giant park packed with attractions. The park also pays tribute to our veterans. Main attractions are located on Main Street, USA, where vets can get a free haircut, and the kids can enjoy ballpark-style hotdogs and French fries. Plan a fun day with Mickey and Minnie, as well as some moving tributes to soldiers at this truly unique location.

Jennifer Grant is a devoted military wife, mother of two and American history buff. She blogs for Americanflags.com, a top provider of American flags based out of New York state.

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