NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hundreds of thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Tuesday to pay respect to U.S. military veterans at the annual Veterans Day Parade.

Every year the parade focuses on a different branch of the military, this year it focused on the Marines.  The grand marshal was former NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who said serving in the Marines taught him everything he knows about leadership.

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PHOTOS: 2014 Veterans Day Parade

“As a young Marine, I deployed to Vietnam,” he said during the parade’s opening ceremony at Madison Square Park. “I can tell you, for me, it was a life-changing experience, a life-shaping experience, that has stayed with me my entire life.”

Organizers said there were more than 20,000 participants, including veterans going back to World War II.

“It’s a great honor,” one 90-year-old veteran told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones. “Never gets old. I keep myself fit so I can do this.”

The parade, which marched from Madison Square Park to 52nd Street, honored the bicentennial of the national anthem. Its theme was “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.”

As CBS2’s Diane Macedo reported, the pre-parade festivities ended with a wreath ceremony to commemorate the end of World War I, which famously happened at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

EXTRA: 2014 Veterans Day Events In New York City

“It keeps the message alive,” said Patrick Gualtieri, executive director of the United War Veterans Council. “No one ever wants to go to war. So we keep that alive because it’s in memory of, not only the World War I veterans, but all the veterans that served since then.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio marched in the parade, smiling and waving an American flag. But he said his thoughts turned to his father.

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“My dad fought in one of the bloodiest battles of all time literally in Okinawa, lost half his leg,” de Blasio told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb. “And when I was young, I just interpreted the physical problem I saw — what he had to do to struggle just to walk around every day and try to lead a normal life. Later, I understood that it was a huge emotional toll that literally stayed with him his whole life.”

Air Force veteran, Colonel Robert Levin told CBS2’s Macedo that Veterans Day is a fantastic opportunity to share stories with the public.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for my fellow airmen to tell their stories as well as other soldiers, sailors, Marines, coast guardsmen who maybe don’t get an opportunity to interact with the public on a regular basis,” he said.

For some participants the day isn’t so much about being thanked as it is about saying thanks.

“You get the glamor of their watching you, but I think what it means more for me and other Marines is that we’re here to say thank you to all the veterans who are there standing on the sides, or are no longer with us,” said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Szabo, OIC, Quantico Marine Corps Band.

The parade also featured a float carrying rapper Ice-T plus six military dogs and their handlers. The float was funded by philanthropist Lois Pope. She works with organizations that reunite military dogs and their soldiers.

It’s the first time dogs appeared in the annual parade.

If you’re interested in helping place a dog with a veteran, click here.

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