ALTOONA, Pa (WTAJ)–Hundreds of people came out for this year’s Memorial Day parade in downtown Altoona Monday afternoon.
The parade featured dozens of cars from first responders, V.F.W posts, the Jaffa Shriners, Altoona High School marching band, and others. The vehicles passed through major intersections of the downtown area.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday meant to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the country. Among those that attended the parades included families, children, and veterans.
John Steele is a retired Navy veteran serving for over 20 years. He said he attends the parade whenever he’s around the area. He said it’s an emotional day because of the many friends that he’s lost.
“It’s an emotional experience for me because of the friends and family that I lost in war and battles,” Steele said. “It’s just an emotional experience for me.”
Others at the parade also feel the same way about this being emotional. Altoona resident Gretchen Kennedy comes from a long line of veterans within her family. Her son is even considering joining the military after high school. She said that this holiday means a lot to veterans.
“It means a lot actually that we can get up in the morning and have our freedoms still to this day because of what all those soldiers all those years ago,” Kennedy said. “Everything that these soldiers are doing for us to be able to be standing here, that’s great freedom.”
Keynote Speaker and Acting Associate Director of the V.A. Hospital in Altoona, Shaun Shenk, agreed that this holiday is a reminder for all those lost. Shenk is a veteran himself, serving four years in the Air Force and five years in the Air Force Reserve.
“I think this holiday should serve as a reminder to all of us to take a moment and remember all those that have been lost,” Shenk said. “Even though we don’t know their names, we reap the benefits of them fighting for our country.”
Many adults noted that it’s essential to teach the younger generation about the true meaning behind the holiday. Everly and Finley Nixon understand that the holiday is meant to remember those that have fallen. They have an uncle who’s a veteran and works now as a police officer.
“I want to learn about those who were most important in this,” Everly asked what she would like to learn about the holiday.
“I hope they grow up and understand the basis of the Memorial Day and hope that they can take on the challenges and sacrifices that the veterans before them took, and just love this country,” Steele said about the younger generation.
A ceremony followed immediately after the parade. Folks gathered along the Veteran Mall to hear from elected officials and the Altoona Area High School Chorus.
Officials also awarded one veteran with honorary plaques and flowers. 100-year-old Dolly Hollen served as a nurse during World War Two. She then moved up to 1st lieutenant.
Shenk said that it’s an honor that they were able to be in the presence of Hollen when she has so much history with her. He noted that many World War Two veterans are no longer alive. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, over 240,000 veterans are still alive who served in World War Two.
“She’s a living hero and a living piece of history that we’re losing quickly,” Shenk said. “So being able to take a moment and recognize someone like that is extremely humbling. I’m grateful we have that opportunity cause that opportunity is fleeing.”