Many among the crowd that lined the streets of downtown Aiken on Saturday afternoon to watch the city’s Memorial Day parade offered a simple message to America’s military men and women.
“Thank you for your service” was the theme up and down the parade route, as people on floats thanked veterans in the crowd, and spectators yelled their appreciation to the active service members and public servants in the parade.
Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution waved flags and yelled “Thank you!” to nearly every entry. Before the parade, they distributed more than 600 flags to spectators along Park Avenue.
“The DAR is founded on patriotism,” District Director Judy Romeo said. “Our patriots fought in our first war, so that we could stand here and have our parades and scream and holler. It’s fun, too!”
Registrar Carolyn Miller waved her flag at a firefighter driving a hook and ladder truck as he passed.
“Thank you for your service, too,” she yelled, and he smiled back at her.
Down the street, 3-year-old Nicholas Hernandez marched excitedly in place as he waited for the Army Signal Corps Band. He waved his flag as they marched passed. Then, as groups of solders marched past in formation or rode in military vehicles, he yelled, “Thank you!” to them.
Sometimes his mother, Michelle Thompson, had to remind him to say thank you.
She wants to instill an attitude of appreciation in her children for both military servicemen and public servants, she said.
“Say a prayer and definitely say thank you,” she said.
As members of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office passed, K-9 Samson took a quick break from walking to let Nicholas pet him, which made the boy squeal.
Thompson said she knew the families of the two Aiken Public Safety officers who died in the line of duty, and that made this parade more poignant for her.
“It’s hard not to cry,” she said.
The parade ended with a horse-drawn hearse transporting an American flag-draped casket. It represented fallen service members.
Melvin and Sophie Rogoff thought it was a nice parade. The couple moved to Aiken a couple of years ago, and Sophie said she wished more communities held Memorial Day parades.
Her husband agreed but did have one suggestion.
“Make it bigger next year,” he said.