GULFPORT -- Despite overcast skies and the occasional drop of rain, thousands of people lined the southbound lane of U.S. 49 in Gulfport on Saturday morning for the annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade.
The parade began at the intersection of U.S. 49 and 19th Street and continued south on the highway before heading east on U.S. 90. It ended at Jones Park.
Maj. Gen. Augustus Leon Collins, adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard, was the parade's grand marshal.
"We had more than 2,000 people march in this year's parade," said parade spokesperson Valerie Mabry. "This is the largest parade we've had. Fortunately, the rain held off but we were going forward with it rain or shine. We had some bands that were scheduled to march but they dropped out because of the chance of rain."
The first Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was held in 2000. It originally alternated between Biloxi and Gulfport, but D'Iberville was added as a the third host city in 2011.
"We are certainly glad to have the parade back in the city of Gulfport this year," Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said. "The coastal community has a long history of supporting our military. This is one of those no-brainer activities. We can't show our veterans enough support."
Gulfport was also host to the Red White and Blue festival in Jones Park.
"Red White and Blue is an event in Jones Park after the parade," Mabry said. "There are static military displays, food vendors, entertainment and arts and crafts vendors. This is the first year that we have held the event in Jones Park."
Vets n 'Vettes
According to Mabry, about 30 World War II veterans participated in Saturday's parade. The veterans were rode the parade route in Corvettes.
"We are so honored to have as many WWII veterans participate in this parade as we do," she said. "They truly are the greatest generation. When people started calling Saturday morning saying they were going to cancel because of the rain, we had zero WWII veterans call and cancel."
Hewes also acknowledged the large number of older veterans participating in the parade.
"We had a lot of WWII veterans in the parade," Hewes said. "A lot of them come out from the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It's very meaningful for the participants and the spectators."
Veterans supporting veterans
Veterans of the Gulf Coast on Saturday not only participated in the parade, but they also showed up to support their fellow veterans.
Joseph E. Peters joined the Air Force in 1943. A veteran of both WWII and Korea, Peters and his wife were on the side of highway 49 as the parade went by.
"I haven't been to one of these parades in a long time," Peters said. "My wife and I are both 90. We decided to come out and see the other veterans regardless of the weather."
George York, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Air Force, said the parade was the first he had attended on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
"I just moved here from Mobile," he said. "I'm a member of the VFW in Biloxi. It makes me feel good to attend these events. Our veterans have done a lot of our country and it's always good to see how our country feels about us."