Families of people killed in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, some shouting "Don't forget 9/11," carried a giant American flag along Fifth Avenue on Monday as part of New York City's Veterans Day Parade, which organizers renamed America's Parade.
"When I was first elected mayor, there was still smoke rising from the World Trade Center site," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a pre-parade wreath-laying ceremony. "And that was a very difficult time, when men and women in the armed forces were stepping up to confront new threats to ensure our safety."
Parade participants also included the Gold Star Families, who honored lost veterans. Atop the group's float was Gabriella Cubinyi, of Teaneck, N.J., wife of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey Ferren. He died at age 35 of heart disease; she feels the stress of three deployments in four years was a contributing factor.
For a Brooklyn family, the event served as a teaching moment.
"We're celebrating all of the people who served in the military and survived," said Christopher Lee, 8, standing behind police barricades for his first Veterans Day parade.
It was his mother's idea to bring him and his 4-year-old sister. At home on the eve of the march, the family sat around the dinner table, talking about the meaning of the day.
"I realized they didn't really get what Veterans Day was, or what a veteran was, so we spoke about what it meant to serve in a war — how important it was and how people lost their lives so others enjoy some freedoms," said Raye McDavid, 43, an architect. "And I wanted the kids to see the parade at least once, to see who these people are."
Christopher said he didn't think he'd want to go to war.
"They get really hurt," he said, adding that he still remembers pain after getting hit in the face with a soccer ball. "And I know war is going to be worse than that, so I just don't want to do that."
Organizers called it the largest Veterans Day event in the nation.
The U.S. military's first female four-star general was a grand marshal. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody retired last year after a 37-year Army career.
Former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi also was a grand marshal; the Navy veteran is vice president of the Wounded Warrior Project.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, was an honorary grand marshal.
At the pre-parade ceremony, a protester was grabbed by security after he went on an anti-police tirade.