For Jonathan Jimenez, Veterans Day is a chance to honor family and others who’ve served and educate people about the meaning behind the holiday.
“All the young people today, a lot of them don’t know what Veterans Day is really about,” Jimenez, 17, said. “They all go on vacation or have a day off from school, but it’s really to remember the reason that we have the right to do that.”
A member of the Milton Lewis Young Marines, Jimenez’s family has served in the armed forces for two generations. Even though he’ll be breaking tradition by attending college instead of joining the military next year, he said he still believes that people young and old need to give back to veterans.
“We’re here to bring remembrance to the veterans and the service they’ve given us,” Jimenez said.
The Young Marines was one of several groups to participate in the celebration, which included a demonstration from active Air Force military dogs, a drill team demo by UF Air Force ROTC, a wreath laying ceremony at the park’s memorial statues, and musical tributes from the Lincoln Middle School Band, the Santa Fe Signing Saints and the Justin Lee Band.
This year’s event was dedicated to Vietnam veterans, as 2015 marks 50 years since the start of the Vietnam War.
“It makes me feel old,” said Forest Hope, president of Alachua’s Vietnam Veterans of America chapter. “But yeah, it’s great to be able to look back on it and realize that I made it through.”
Vietnam veterans were recognized throughout the day’s formal ceremony, but there were plenty of other veterans on site to celebrate the day. About 20 different tents were set up to house the various veteran service groups.
Hope said that the event is like a mini-reunion for the veterans in the area.
Kim Smith, director of Alachua County Veterans Services, said she was pleased with how the event turned out, and after the formal ceremony ended, several veterans walked up to Smith and thanked her for the successful event.
“I’m happy we did such a good job, so many people have come together to get this going,” said Smith, a veteran of the Navy. “I think today was a fun celebration that people got a chance to know each other.”
While there were plenty of veterans in attendance, there were a lot of children taking in the event and interacting with those who’ve served.
Hope said,“It’s a very good opportunity for kids to see somebody in uniform and say, you know, ‘Maybe I wanna be that whenever I grow up,’”