Roger Ware, 68, walked down the sidewalk wearing his old Air Force flight suit and a patch that read, "Viet Cong Hunting Club." He was in the service nearly 24 years, including two tours in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972 as a crewman on a C-130 gunship. He said the military is more respected now than when he returned home from Vietnam. Ware said the Sept. 11 terror attacks probably changed how the country views its armed forces.
"It just wasn't a good time and right now we're kind of riding on the tails of the troops who served in the Middle East," he said.
Farther down the road, veterans Ronald McLendon, 73, of Kennesaw, and Randy Bergman, 59, of Cartersville, were working as parade marshals. McLendon said when he returned from Vietnam, he was spit on by protesters in San Francisco. He was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was deployed to Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.
He described the parade as a chance to receive a public thank you.
"You've got to remember that today everyone in the military is strictly volunteer," McLendon said. "So there's a lot of guys getting out there, getting shot in Iraq and Afghanistan that volunteered to be in the military."
Squads of high school ROTC students marched in uniforms, chanting as they went along the street.
Bergman said he would reluctantly support sending young soldiers to fight if it was necessary for national defense. He was unsure how and whether the U.S. should end its military involvement in Afghanistan.
"How many lives have we already put over there? And are we going to pull out and say, 'We lost.' I look back to Vietnam and see the same thing," he said.
Jacksonville's Veterans Day Parade steps off at 11:01 a.m. Monday on Bay Street. The patriotic parade features more than 4,000 participants including senior military officials, JTROTC and many more. Those who cannot attend can with the parade live streaming on News4Jax.com.
Visit the area events page for information about other Veterans Day observances throughout Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia,.