A brisk morning was not enough to deter spectators from turning out en masse to honor our nation’s veterans. With blankets and hot coffee in tow, they made a red, white and blue outline around Western Boulevard at the 24th Annual Onslow County Veterans Day Parade in Jacksonville, Nov. 9.

Alongside Rolling Thunder Inc. Chapter NC-5 (RTNC5), who coordinated the parade, were over 70 other organizations including schools, businesses and community outreach programs. Marching bands from Dixon, White Oak and Jacksonville High Schools were in attendance to keep cadence as the procession of vehicles, floats and pedestrians made its way through the heart of a city that has a special relationship with the United States military.

“We always hope the community comes out to support our veterans, past and present, thanking them for their service,” said Paul Levesque, Onslow County Council of Veteran Organizations president. “That’s the goal.”

The Grand Marshal for the event was retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. John Kopka, who served 31 years including tours of duty in Vietnam. Kopka was the base inspector and chief of staff to the late Gen. Larry Livingston from 1991 to 1994 on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. He is a Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient in addition to a plethora of other service awards.

The parade was also a debut for a new public art project. Painted in dress blues, a hefty bulldog statue is the first iteration of what is intended to be a community staple by the Jacksonville-Onslow Council for the Arts. The statue will be installed at City Hall.

“It’s a great way to debut and it’s fitting to do it at a Veterans Day event,” said Noah White, executive director for the council.

RTNC5 took over the duties of coordinating the parade in 2005. Levesque was impressed at this year’s turnout.

“I believe this year was considerably larger in terms of spectators, largely in my opinion due to the city of Jacksonville’s media push and an unusual addition as a second parade, the Shriners, followed the Veterans Day Parade,” Levesque said. Over 200 Shriners from as far as Johnston County, North Carolina were in attendance.

“This year is hard to judge the impact, but based on the turnout, I’m hoping it was patriotic versus (people saying) ‘let’s go see a parade,’” Levesque said.

If the cheers of spectators - civilian, active duty and veteran alike - were any indication, the event was a star spangled success.