PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — The latest data reveals more than 435,000 veterans are living in Tennessee and dozens participated Saturday in the 9th Annual Salute to Veterans Parade.
Victoria Southard is visiting Sevier County from Nashville with her family.
“My father is a veteran. Our grandfather is a veteran so we’re supporting all of them also. Proud to be Americans and glad to be here,” she said.
Plenty of patriotism during the parade as many marched north on the Parkway.
“We appreciate all of our veterans who have served and we’re proud to honor them here today. I actually have a father and two uncles who served in Vietnam who are participating in the parade, so I’m proud of them and everything they’ve done as well,” Pigeon Forge Special Events Coordinator Todd Hurst said.
Veteran Tom Lavin served as the grand marshal for the big event.
“I wasn’t sure if I measured up to it, but I’m thrilled beyond all belief,” he said. “I could have not ever imagined, ever imagined.”
Lavin is a Marine assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and was a drill instructor.
“I’m appreciative this is happening and it is a great moment in my life. I’m an individual here but I’m representing every G.I. that ever walked the face of this earth on this day,” he said.
The 89-year-old remembers his days in Korea vividly and says he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“Being a United States Marine to me is one of the high points of my life,” Lavin said. “I’m still a Marine and I’ll be a Marine until the day I leave.”
Even though the veterans’ parade went smoothly, the organizer says there were some challenges.
“Getting into contact with all the organizations and a lot of the older vets are getting of that age where they don’t want to come out and participate as much as they did in the past with things like this,” Hurst said. “Especially in the heat of August here in East Tennessee but we’re just proud to have everybody here today with us.”
Hurst added they’re looking forward to next year’s parade and the 10th anniversary of it.
Through August, veterans, active military personnel and first responders can receive discounts at businesses in Pigeon Forge.