When Martin Hay first joined the Air Force in 1971, the Vietnam War was underway. When soldiers returned home, they didn’t receive the warmest of welcomes.
But Saturday morning, as Hay watched the Killeen Veterans Day parade roll through downtown, the scene couldn’t have been further away from his experience.
“It’s just a wonderful tribute to our country and to the people that served,” he said.
The Area Veterans Advisory Committee conducted the parade, which kicked off at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Members of the Junior ROTC from Harker Heights High School, Ellison High School and Killeen High School marched alongside the high school bands and cheer teams. Other local organizations, from the Grand Marshal Gold Star Mothers to several different VFW posts, marched or rode on floats.
John Perez, a 15-year veteran who split his time between the Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, was in attendance with his family and waited for his son Daniel to march past with the Ellison Junior ROTC squad.
Perez retired in 2013, and after several stints in which he was stationed in either San Diego or Hawaii, he said he has realized that Texas is the best state in which to be a veteran.
“Really, like a lot of veterans, we consider this our holiday,” he said. “In a way, it’s kind of like our own little Christmas. We continue to serve in our own little way. There’s the struggle; you have a lot of veterans out there with PTSD, still trying to adapt, and they still serve in that sense. I’m not trying to sound like a recruiting poster, but a lot of veterans take that stuff to heart.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens drove a float in which president Julia Villaronga sat in the cab of the truck. A car filled with women veterans drove by early on in the parade, with its occupants waving flags and shouting, “We served, too! We served, too!”
Ben Agosta, an active-duty soldier stationed at Fort Hood, watched the parade go by with his family. To him, the holiday reminds him of his grandfather, who was a Korean War veteran and the reason he decided to join the Army himself.
“It’s just a good feeling inside. I can’t really say why,” he said.