Kymberlee Bates pushed a baby carriage past the marchers assembling at the edge of Boston Common for the Veterans Day parade Friday afternoon. The Medford mother had one son in the carriage, another walking beside her, and a small nephew in tow.
“Today is Veterans Day,” she said instructively to the hushed trio. “This is the day when we say thank you.”
Bates strolled her mini-platoon past a diverse mix of veterans. Some had served in the Taiwanese army, others came from the LGBT community, and then there were cadets from Junior ROTC at Boston English High School.
Soon, off stepped the parade — many marchers in cadence, some not — but all pushing forward into a stiff breeze that sent a few hats tumbling backward during a bracing turn off Boylston Street.
Matt Taylor, a native of South Africa who lives in Roslindale, stood on the Tremont Street sidewalk — flanked by daughters Madelyn, 11, and Chloe, 8 — as he called out to Mayor Martin J. Walsh for a photograph. The mayor jogged over, bent to pose with the girls, and quickly rejoined the parade headed toward City Hall Plaza.
Taylor staked out that sidewalk space to give meaning to Veterans Day to his daughters.
“I wanted the girls to see this out of respect for what they do for this country,” Taylor said.
A few thousand people lined the short route, cheering the Navy crew from the USS Constitution; the Veterans Network at KPMG, the auditing firm; and the band from American Legion Post 156 in Waltham.
Command Sergeant Major Charles Hornbuckle, an assistant Army instructor at English High, looked over his stiff-backed formation with pride as he marched along.
“Over the last couple of years, there have been more kids wanting to join,” said Hornbuckle, a 28-year veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s just exposure, seeing other kids wearing the uniform.”
Over and over, spectators spoke of respect — for veterans who put service above self, and for their willingness to sacrifice everything if necessary.
That respect was repaid at the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial on the wind-whipped South Boston waterfront, where Governor Charlie Baker paid tribute to the many families who wait and worry at home while their loved ones fight overseas.
“We understand and appreciate the risk and enormity of the chance that they take,” Baker said of the families.
James King, a 60-year-old from Dorchester, is a father from one of those families. His son Kevin died in 2007 while training with the 101st Airborne Division, shortly before he was to be deployed to Iraq.
King, along with others who suffered wartime losses, laid a rose at the memorial. A giant American flag hung nearby, suspended between Ladder 7 and Ladder 17 from the Boston Fire Department.
Active-duty service members, many wearing medal-bedecked uniforms, mixed with passers-by who stopped on the plaza to listen and simply reflect.
“It’s quite moving. You can tell from my voice,” King said, his words spoken haltingly after a lone bugler played “Taps.’’
Loss was a recurring theme throughout the day, but the gains were also acknowledged.
In the morning, Walsh and 200 volunteers knocked on the doors of Boston veterans and thanked them for their service. The veterans received information about resources available to them and an invitation to the mayor’s “welcome home” breakfast.
Walsh and US Representative Stephen Lynch also attended the South Boston dedication of Patriot Homes, a cluster of 24 affordable apartments for veterans that includes housing in the former District 6 police station on D Street.
Later, speaking for all veterans and their families, Baker spoke with emotion. “We will be here for them,” he said.