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New York City Veterans Day Parade Returns In-Person For 1st Time In 2 Years

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City hosted its first Veterans Day Parade in two years on Thursday.

Roughly 200 marching units, including bands, floats and vintage vehicles, marched up Fifth Avenue from 29th Street to 45th Street.

CBS2's John Dias caught up with the grand marshal ahead of time. Kevin Carrick is from the Long Island town of Riverhead, and served for more than two decades rescuing people in combat. He said being grand marshal was an honor.

"Representing the United States Military, the Air Force in the Big Apple is a big deal," Carrick said. "I hope I represent them well, and I'm going to be very proud to see all the kids and stuff cheering us on."

The in-person return of the 102nd annual parade began with a solemn wreath laying ceremony at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month at the Eternal Light Flag Staff in Madison Square Park. Every branch of the country's armed services were proudly represented.

"We feel their commitment, and we know we could not make our lives work without them," Mayor Bill de Blasio told the crowd.

Last year, most Veterans Day celebrations were either scaled back or virtual due to the pandemic. Not this year, though.

While Memorial Day honors those who died in military service, Thursday's events honored all the brave men and women, both the living and the dead.

"Every day we do, but today is the focus on that," Michael Baird, alumni manager with the Wounded Warrior Project, told Dias.

For younger veterans and those still serving, it's a day to learn firsthand about past wars.

"To hear the deployments and just the places they served, and how their experiences were different," Marine Corps veteran Major Lindsay Pirek said.

At 95 years old, James Bishop has plenty of those stories, and medals.

"I'll be here until midnight talking about it," he said.

The New Jersey man was a corporal in the Army and fought during World War II.

"I was in the Pacific with Gen. Douglas MacArthur," he said. "I got myself into Tokyo on a surrender and I occupied that country for a couple of years."

Col. Mary Westmoreland, standing at "62 inches," lived up to Shakespeare's, "though she be but little, she is fierce," serving in the Army for almost 32 years.

"When I first came out of the military, I wanted nothing to do with Veterans Day. I wanted to take the uniform off and just sleep, I was exhausted," she said.

She has her husband and other loved ones to thank for her new mindset. They helped her assimilate into civilian life and to be proud.

"I've never stopped. But I have made a commitment to work on behalf of veterans where and when I can," she said.

Army veteran Donee Smalls continues to serve in a different way, with the city's Department of Veterans Services.

"Just knowing when I house homeless veterans, the phone call they give me to just say thank you, it just melts my heart and I felt like my mission is complete," Smalls told CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis.

"It means the country can come together," World War II veteran Manning Rubin said.

"I lost a buddy of mine who I went into service with. I'm here. He was killed. So Veterans Day is very important to me," World War II veteran H.P. Schroer said.

"I'm just proud, proud, proud to be a veteran," Korean War veteran Neville Mur added.

COVID protocols were in place for the parade, but organizers said since it was an outdoor event, it was open to guests regardless of vaccination status.

Watch: WWII Vets Reflect On Importance Of Veterans Day In Montville, N.J. 

Veterans were also celebrated at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The museum hosted its annual commemorative wreath laying in the Hudson River. The festivities started there on Wednesday.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle attended the Salute to Freedom Gala, where he presented the inaugural Intrepid Valor Award.

The celebrations did not fade when the sun went down. Iconic New York buildings, including the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building, shined bright in red, white and blue to pay tribute.

New York City's parade is the largest Veterans Day event in the country. This year, it also commemorated 20 years since the 9/11 terror attacks.

"The day 9/11 happened, myself and 17 other guys went in there and did what we could," Carrick said.

Meanwhile, other Veterans Day events happened across the Tri-State Area.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy took part in a ceremony at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel.

Newark honored veterans who now serve as first responders with a commemoration at Public Safety headquarters on Clinton Avenue.

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano recognized local veterans for their service during a ceremony at Yonkers Memorial Plaza on South Broadway.

On Long Island, Girl Scouts collected supplies for veterans in need in the Applebees parking lot on Montauk Highway in Shirley.

CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis contributed to this report.


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