Veterans Day celebrated with Nashua parade

NASHUA – Hector Perez went to the Veterans Day parade to watch a familiar cookie march down Main Street.

Perez’s granddaughter, 10-year-old Darianne, and her fellow troop members dressed up as Girl Scout cookies and paraded from Holman Stadium to Elm Street Middle School Thursday morning.

The girls marched with veterans, bands, Boy Scouts, color guards and fellow cookies to support soldiers past and present in the city’s annual Veterans Day parade.

Hundreds gathered on the flag-lined streets as former soldiers carried signs reading “Freedom for America” and bands played patriotic songs such as “America the Beautiful.”

The mile-long parade began at Holman Stadium at 10:30 a.m. and moved south onto Main Street through downtown. The celebration ended on Elm Street about an hour later.

Darianne’s moment of fame wasn’t the only reason Perez attended the parade. His son-in-law, Cliff Brown, just returned from spending 18 months in Iraq as a staff sergeant and nurse for the Army, and he wanted to show his support for the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We have soldiers in our family,” Perez said. “They give us our freedom. Without them we can’t survive.”

Brown also attended the parade, but he said he paid little attention to the bands, dancers and floats. He had his eyes on the veterans. He said the parade gave him the opportunity to thank past soldiers, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars members who marched, for their services.

“I went around and thanked as many of them as I could find,” Brown said as the parade ended on Elm Street. “They are some strong people.”

Greg Haefele, 13, was still playing “America the Beautiful” on his saxophone after the parade ended. This was the first year the Fairgrounds Middle School student marched in the parade, but he wasn’t nervous at all. Greg has been playing the saxophone for three years and knows the song well.

His mother, Dolores Haefele, said the highlight of the parade was watching the kids play their instruments.

“It’s a lot of fun to see all the kids play,” Haefele said. “The bands are really very good.”

Paul Dean, 68, has participated in the parade in one way or another for about half a century. He started much like Greg, marching with his school band from the former Spring Street Junior High School.

In the 1960s, when Dean was in the Army National Guard, he paraded through Nashua with his fellow soldiers.

On Thursday, Dean led his Boy Scout troop through the streets of downtown to show support for veterans and soldiers. For Dean and his Scouts, honoring soldiers this week has a special significance. One of his troop members has a father who is returning to Iraq today at the end of a leave.

“It’s a remembrance of those who have fought in the wars and for those who are fighting today,” Dean said of his participation in the parade.

The boys in Dean’s troop marched in their tan uniforms, carrying American flags, patriotic signs and ribbons from their troop activities.

Hillary McCabe and Maria Dominguez were also carrying flags, but they weren’t red, white and blue. The girls were twirling green flags for the color guard at Fairgrounds Middle School.

Dominguez, 13, was paying more attention to her routine than the crowd. It was her first year marching in the parade and she wanted to be sure not to drop her flag.

McCabe, 14, who participated last year, said she enjoyed performing for the audience because people were cheering and clapping the whole way.

“It’s fun,” McCabe said, twirling her flag on the Elm Street Middle School lawn. “You’re with all your friends and people are yelling.”

Fred Raban, 63, a retired master sergeant general for the Army who marched with the VFW, agreed that the best part of the parade was the response from the crowd. He said he kept hearing people yell “thank you” to him from the sidelines.

“I think that’s terrific,” Raban said.