When Jose Vizcaino first got home from active duty in Afghanistan, Veterans Day was a chance to crack a beer and be with fellow marines.
But, on Saturday, he watched the Lough Legacy Veterans Parade with a different purpose.
“I used to think it was about me. I was like ‘It’s our day. Let’s celebrate,'” the 27-year-old said. “But, really, it’s about honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and people who have been injured” while serving, he said.
Many who braved the rains and brisk winds seemed to understand the complicated emotions that surface on Veterans Day. More than 100 organizations marched in the annual event, while the onlookers took stock of their personal reasons for honoring the men and women of the military.
George Stebbins, who spent nearly three decades with the U.S. Coast Guard, said he was honoring his son and others currently deployed overseas. It was also the first Veterans Day for his granddaughters and daughter-in-law, Vivien Stebbins, whose immigration from the Philippines took seven years.
“It’s an eye-opening experience for them. Where they were at, Palawan Island, it’s kind of developed but they don’t have a lot of the stuff we have in the U.S.” he said.
Many Vietnam War veterans said they were basking in an appreciation for the military, a sentiment they remember as being elusive. Coming home from the war, they recalled being yelled at — or worse.
“In San Francisco, where I was, you were told not to wear your uniform because it was hazardous,” said Mark Willson, a U.S. Navy veteran.
Richard White, leaning on a cane near a roundabout on Officer’s Row, said he and his family hoped to pay respects to a Vietnam veteran and a family friend who recently died of cancer. He wondered, though, how many people come to the parade that aren’t related to a veteran.
“There could be more,” the 54-year-old U.S. Army veteran said. “If it wasn’t for (veterans), we wouldn’t have what we have.”
Two teachers with no close connections to the military said they attended to try and better understand what veterans have been through. For Shara Parker and Jason Kaiser, the parade put into perspective things they take for granted, such as going to restaurants, attending college and teaching kids Spanish and music.
“We get to have jobs and we get to educate kids about our passions,” Kaiser said. “I think it’s definitely going to change the lens with which we look at things.”
But they both said that there was only so much they could understand.
“They have so much more experience than we have, how do we relate? We’ll never understand what they went through,” Kaiser said.
Vizcaino, who has never been in a firefight, said it was difficult even for him to understand what more battle-worn veterans had gone through.
“Everyone has a different point of view, you know? It is a stressful environment. Our convoy got shot at, but I didn’t directly get shot at,” he said. “I was lucky enough I didn’t have to shoot.”
Near the beginning of the parade, he spotted a fire truck carrying gold star families, relatives of someone who died in combat. It reminded him of Marines he knew in Afghanistan killed by a roadside bomb; during their funeral, one of their mothers looked a lot like his own.
“It was like seeing their faces again,” he said. “It humbles you real quick.”