Thanking and supporting veterans on Veterans Day and beyond

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on Riverside Drive is a constant reminder of the service of our military men and women. Saturday, November 11, is Veterans Day, a special chance to not just to recognize that service but also to draw attention to issues impacting today's veterans. 

About 40,000 people from 30 states are expected to march in Saturday's Veterans Day Parade, the largest Veterans Day parade in the country. Tom Tramantano of the Bronx will be one of them. Tramantano served three years in the Navy during the late 1960s; two of those on board the USS America aircraft carrier deployed off the coast of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

"Serving on a ship named after your country is probably one of the greatest honors that any of us feel we could have," he said.

Tramantano now leads a group of about 550 former crew members of the USS America from all around the country. A number of them will march with him in Saturday's parade.

"It is nice to go out and be acknowledged for the sacrifice—going away and staying away from your family for three years," Tramantano said.

This year's parade grand marshal is astronaut and retired Air Force Colonel Buzz Aldrin.

"He's had a lot of great accomplishments, obviously, but he's also someone who takes the time to support veterans, so we're very proud of having him," said Dan McSweeney, the president of the United War Veterans Council, which organizes the parade. McSweeney served in the Marine Corps for more than a decade and had multiple deployments to Iraq and elsewhere.

"We don't look at the Veterans Day Parade as a celebration per se—obviously it's important to honor the veterans that are marching by, and their families, but it's also a very important form of advocacy," McSweeney said. "We have elected and appointed officials that will attend, and we want to make sure they understand what are the perspectives of the veterans community."

McSweeney said the parade is also an opportunity to inform vets of the services available to them. And perhaps most importantly, it is a chance for the general public to express their gratitude to those who've served.

"At any one moment in time less that 1 percent of the U.S. population is in uniform," McSweeney said. "And so it's a small group of people we have to make an extra effort to make sure the connection between our military and veterans and the broader community is reinforced."

Half a million spectators are expected to line the parade route up Fifth Avenue. It kicks off from Madison Square Park at 11:15 a.m. Saturday.