Hundreds of spectators crowded in front of stores, restaurants and between parked cars in downtown Bel Air Friday morning to watch the first Veterans Day parade the town has seen in more than 50 years.
The crowd, which, at times, looked like a sea of waving American flags in a cold wind, was a good mix of young and old. And, though the parade was relatively short, many attending said they were impressed with what they saw and with the turnout.
Children, many from nearby Bel Air Elementary School (county schools did not have the day off Friday), stood and sat along Main Street's curb, holding their flags and chanting "USA!"
Veterans, while relatively quiet as they watched, could be picked out from the crowd by the hats they wore, several donning caps with "United States Marine Corps" or "Korea Veteran" stitched on the front.
Maj. Kirk Pietsch, serving on active duty in the Maryland National Guard, was at the parade with his son, Max, a third-grader at Bel Air Elementary School, and many of Max's classmates.
"It really represents the sacrifices the soldiers make, especially the younger ones," Pietsch said of what the Veterans Day celebration meant to him, adding that he's especially moved when he sees young veterans who have returned disabled from serving overseas.
Friday morning for Pietsch was all about celebrating the servicemen and women of Harford alongside his son.
Sandra Sann, 73 of Jarrettsville, said she came to the parade to see her great-niece and granddaughter, who attend Bel Air Elementary School, and to accompany her friend, Dean Rueckert, a Vietnam-era vet.
Rueckert, 67 of Bel Air, joked about how the military sent him to Germany during the war, where he served from 1969 to 1972, because he spoke the language and was part of an intelligence team.
Looking at the number of young children in the crowd, Rueckert remarked, "It's great to think they understand how costly our liberty is."
"We had to shed our blood for that," he added.
Rick Roberts, a civilian working for the Coast Guard, accompanied his grandchildren to the parade.
"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have this country," Roberts, 53 of Joppa, said of the veterans.
While he's never served, Roberts has friends and co-workers who have. "It's a day to honor them all."
The parade began near the Harford County Courthouse on Main Street and ended a couple blocks north at Lee Street, with onlookers waving and cheering along the entire route.
Several local high school marching bands played patriotic songs between groups of veterans in cars and military vehicles, which got the loudest cheers from the children.
Armory exhibit, ceremony
Following the parade, veterans who had participated or watched lined up in front of the Bel Air Reckord Armory for a ceremony.
County Councilman Jim McMahan, an Army veteran, read "In Flanders Fields," written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, what McMahan called "one of the most memorable war poems ever written."