Fayetteville, N.C. — Thousands of people lined the streets in downtown Fayetteville Saturday morning for the 14th Veterans Day parade, the biggest event of the city's annual "Heroes Homecoming" celebration, which is a three-day celebration this year.
Saturday's parade was designed to honor all veterans and their families, but organizers wanted the estimated 5,000 in attendance to remember the veterans from the most recent war in Iraq.
"We've had a large number of people deployed from Fort Bragg in the last several years," Tom McCollum, the public affairs director at Fort Bragg, said. "As many as 35,000 of our 55,000 total soldiers have been deployed at one time. We're happy to have most of them home."
McCollum said the parade is one of several chances for local residents to show appreciation for the "real heroes" in and around Fayetteville.
"In your neighborhood, you are likely to live next door to at least a couple of actual heroes," he said. "Not sports figures or actors, but people that have actually gone out and risked their lives for people back home."
William Butler, who served in the Vietnam War in 1965, brought his grandchildren to the parade and said he wants them to learn about the sacrifices soldiers make.
"I'm glad to be here and see that our troops are coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq," Butler said.
Jason Nytes, who will be deploying from Fort Bragg in the coming weeks, attended the Veterans Day parade with his wife and daughter.
Wife Tammy said the next deployment will be harder on their daughter, Julia. "Last year when he deployed, she was just an infant, so it was hard, and it's gonna be harder now," she said.
The Nyteses found being together at the parade had double meaning. "You don't really have a lot of family time, being gone from nine months to a year," Jason Nytes said. "The time you do have goes quick."
"It's an honor and a privilege to see all of our fellow battle buddies, and everybody who supports the military right here in Fayetteville," he continued.
Lt. Gen. Dan Allyn, the commanding general of Fort Bragg, said the parade is another example of the support Fayetteville provides to the military. He also mentioned the continuing efforts of Fort Bragg-based units in Afghanistan and even the northeast.
"We still have soldiers deployed around the world, particularly in Afghanistan," Allyn said. "We have over 700 soldiers in units supporting the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort in both New Jersey and New York."
Heroes Homecoming festivities began Friday afternoon with a book signing with Jeff Falkel, the author of "The Making of Our Warrior" and a flag dedication ceremony and paper unveiling at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.
Saturday's parade was followed by a ceremony at the North Carolina Veterans Park and a celebration with games, live music, food vendors and veterans' associations.
The weekend's events conclude Sunday at noon with a "Prisoners Of War/Missing In Action" vigil at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.
In Raleigh, the North Carolina Veterans Day Parade and ceremony began on the Fayetteville Street Mall at 9:30 a.m. Following the parade, a wreath-laying ceremony was held at 11 a.m. at the North Carolina Capitol grounds.