KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – On Monday, Americans paused to thank the men and women who protect our country. In East Tennessee, Knoxville hosted its 94th Veterans Day parade.
More than 100 floats, groups and businesses, as well as seven high school marching bands from area high schools marched down Gay Street.
Vietnam veterans we spoke with say this parade is in many ways a welcome home and celebration they didn’t get years ago.
“Very proud to be a veteran and be able to say I am a veteran,” said David McGill who served in the U.S. Army.
Mr. McGill is a Vietnam-era veteran and got to the parade early, sharing with us about the days that followed after being drafted.
“Never forget the day I was stepping up on the bus, telling us we were in Uncle Sam’s army now. We belonged to the U.S. government,” he said.
He served in Heidelburg, Germany and remembers his comrades on Veterans Day.
“You think about those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, those who went before you, those who served and I’m just proud,” said Mr. McGill.
Close by, Vietnam veteran John Foatman got to downtown Knoxville for the parade early as well, and shared that he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army.
“My job over there was trying to stay alive and everything that I was trained, that they trained me to do, came into focus when I got over there in the war zone,” said Foatman.
Mr. Foatman says he was a paratrooper and Veterans Day celebrations are the acceptance that he and his comrades never received.
“I had to take my uniform off for my safety to travel in this country when I got back,” he shared. “So, now when I see days like this and someone comes up to me and says ‘Thank you for your service,’ they begin to recognize that freedom is not free. That we paid a price.”
It’s the pomp and circumstance, as well as the smiles, that U.S. Marine Corps and Vietnam veteran Ronnie Harris says he comes to see every year.
“The people who should honor us aren’t here anymore but I really appreciate what everybody does now for the veterans,” Harris said.
These veterans hope Americans continue reflecting on what makes us free.
“We got people in the service now who put their lives on the line every day,” said Mr. Harris.
“I think of the freedom and bloodshed it took to get this freedom,” said Mr. Foatman.
“I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud to live in a free country,” added Mr. McGill.
According to the Knoxville History Project, our parade route marches in the same direction as military recruits in 1917. At the time, the recruits marched north toward the troop trains waiting at the Southern Railway Station.
MORE ONLINE | See more local Veterans Day coverage here