NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It was cold start to this year’s Veterans Day Weekend, as our nation’s vets are set to be honored across New York City at several events.
Record-low temperatures made it tough for the scores of people who showed up at Madison Square Park, where the city’s Veterans Day ceremony and parade kicked off Saturday afternoon.
Scarves, hats, and puffy jackets were all out in full force as people desperately tried to stay warm ahead of a weekend full of outdoor events.
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The 99th annual parade — the largest of its kind in the country — kicked off at 11 a.m. near Fifth Avenue with remarks from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who hosted a special Veterans Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion earlier in the day.
This year’s grand marshal was astronaut Buzz Aldrin, himself a veteran of the Korean War. The 87-year-old is a Montclair, New Jersey native.
As grand marshal, he cruised in a convertible with a driver. As an astronaut, it was Apollo 11 he piloted to become the second man on the moon. He was honored Saturday for the many other missions he flew in the U.S. Air Force.
“I’ve been so lucky in my life so many times,” he said.
The weather was chilly but the reception for the veterans was nothing but warm, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported.
“Two bronze stars and three purple hearts later, here I am,” said retired Cpl. Kenneth Smith, a Vietnam veteran from Queens. “When I see these people marching and these spectators lining up, it fills my heart with pride.”
The parade aims to lift up and recognize veterans. And for those whose lives were cut short and did not come home, it keeps their memories alive.
On a float for Gold Star Mothers, Emily Toro, from the Soundview section of the Bronx, held a photo of her fallen soldier son, Pte. Isaac Cortes. He died in 2007 in a roadside bomb attack while on patrol near Baghdad.
“Unfortunately, he was killed in Iraq. But where he left off the torch, I picked up,” she told Carlin. “So my job is to make sure they are not forgotten.”
“Always thank a veteran – two words: thank you,” she added.
All the distinct colors of the armed forces were on display, and those represented reached back generations — from World War II to active service members.
Rick, standing in a light fall jacket on a frigid Saturday morning, said he was so overwhelmed by the level of pride on display that he didn’t even feel the cold weather.
“I’m just appreciating everything that everyone has done just so that I can get up and go have a very bad day at work, and I oftentimes don’t really appreciate what a lucky man I am to live in such a great country,” he told WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz.
Some folks stumbled on the parade and decided to stay, like Linda from Upstate, whose father served in the second world war.
“Because our military is so, so important to us, and our retired vets don’t get what they need,” she told 1010 WINS’ Samantha Liebman. “They need healthcare, they need their… they just generally need to be taken care of by the people who they took care of.”
New York City is home to more than 200,000 veterans.
Many say the support in the city needs to be backed up by better access to health care and jobs, Carlin reported. They say on parade day, and every day, remember they fought for America and freedom, so keep fighting for them.
An annual ceremony at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is scheduled is also scheduled, where a commemorative wreath will be laid in the Hudson River to honor veterans and former crew members of the Intrepid, some of whom will be in attendance.
If this year is anything like last, the city can expect a huge turnout at events across the area despite the bitter cold.