NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Red, white and blue lit up the New York City sky on Veterans Day, shining a light on the country’s most courageous.

As American flags blew in the bitter wind, the warmth of gratitude was expressed by mothers like Julie Napolitano, CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported.

“For them to have an appreciation of why we’re so lucky to live here,” she said.

That gratitude was felt by veterans at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan.

“All the sacrifice, all the people who came before me, the people who come after me,” Airman Eric Bertrand-Loesch said.

Thousands lined Fifth Avenue for New York City’s 97th annual Veterans Day Parade.

“I think it’s a very important way to pay tribute to what they do for us,” one parade-goer said.

It began with a memorial ceremony Friday morning at Madison Square Park before stepping off on Fifth Avenue and 26th Street.

“We have to honor them in every way,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during the ceremony before the parade. “Not just on Veterans Day, but every day of the year.”

PHOTOS: 2016 Veterans Day Parade

The parade wrapped up on 53rd Street and 5th Avenue. More than 250 groups, marching bands, floats, military vehicles and 20,000 participants took part.

This year commemorated the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with special recognition for Iraq, Afghanistan and other post-9/11 veterans and first responders.

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The city’s salute to the troops, which has roots dating back to the American Revolution, is an annual observance that draws crowds from around the world.

Stuart Hookway, visiting from the U.K., and Roland Ingerev, here from Sweden, took it all in.

“It’s amazing, it really is amazing. It’s a shame we don’t do stuff like this at home,” Hookway told CBS2’s Steve Langford.

“We’re just lucky to visit and watch this parade, it’s great,” Ingerev said.

At the Plaza Hotel, a veteran’s celebration proved you’re never too young to start learning about service and sacrifice. A 7-year-old named Lucy colored an American flag. When asked what she would like to say to the veterans, she replied “thank you very, very much.”

“Thank you for such a wonderful life,” another young girlsaid.

Bertrand-Loesch said the simple and sincere thank yous give him “chills.”

U.S. Army veteran Chris Christian is an immigrant from Jamaica who served 12 years in the military, including combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the city helped get his family out of a shelter and connect them to a landlord in Brooklyn who took them in.

“Soon after I was discharged, my wife, three children and I found ourselves homeless in New York City earlier this year,” he said. “Now that we have a stable home we can afford, we feel so much more secure. We feel free, we feel independent again.”

New York City now has a new Department of Veterans Services, which the mayor says has placed over 1,600 homeless veterans into permanent housing in the past year, CBS2’s Steve Langford reported.

“Veterans Day is a time to reconnect ourselves to actually serving our veterans, to actually taking care of them,” he said. “I want to ask you to be soldiers in the army of people who are going to lend that helping hand to our veterans each and every day.”

Meanwhile, the George Washington Bridge is also saluting veterans on Veterans Day.

The Port Authority says the world’s largest free-flying American flag will fly from the upper arch of the bridge’s New Jersey tower from until 1:15 p.m. on Friday. The flag weighs 450 pounds and is 90 feet long by 60 feet wide.

The bridge’s tower lights will be lit from dusk until 11:59 p.m.

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