Northeast Bakersfield resident Kelly Matthews yelled, "Thank you! Thank you! And thank YOU!" as he pointed toward Korean War and World War II veterans waving to crowds at the Veterans Day Parade held Monday in downtown Bakersfield.
"My brother was a Navy SEAL who was on one of the copters trying to help free the hostages during the Iran hostage crisis," Matthews said. "Military service runs in my family. Every time I wake up in the morning, I thank God and our veterans for keeping us free."
It's that level of enthusiasm and support for military veterans that characterizes many people in Kern County.
Enthusiasm was clearly in evidence Monday as thousands crowded the sidewalks to show their appreciation to veterans during the annual parade, hosted by American Legion Post 26.
The parade proceeded west from 21st and L streets before turning south at G Street and then east on 20th Street. Veterans rode on floats or in vehicles. School marching bands, classic car clubs, local service clubs, Cub Scout packs and Girl Scout troops, and riders on horseback participated.
At the beginning of the route, Highland High School band director Geoffrey Ruud gave last minute instructions before the snare drummers fired up their cadence.
"I think it's great for us to be out here performing for the community," Ruud said. "I heard someone say this may be the largest audience we ever perform for."
It's also good for the students, he said, to be part of an annual community event that honors the service and sacrifice of military veterans.
Marjorie Matthews, 17, a senior in Highland's drum section, carried an array of six different drums hanging from a strap around her neck.
She was in marching band during her freshmen year, but gave it up for two years before returning this year.
"I was so hesitant and scared to come back, but it's my senior year and I wanted to have fun this year."
The roots of the annual observance goes back to the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. The day became known as Armistice Day, and was declared a legal holiday dedicated to the cause of world peace in 1938.
In 1954 the holiday was renamed Veterans Day.
For Jose Fernandez, the parade provides a chance to share the beautiful curves of his 1940 midnight blue Pontiac sedan with the rest of the city. In the passenger seat was his father-in-law, John Ruiz, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army.
"I enjoy the fun of being out in the community," Fernandez said.
And watching his father-in-law enjoy a day dedicated to veterans like him is part of the experience.
Riding up ahead with the Bakersfield Trailblazers, Vicki Utt, wife of Army Vietnam veteran Dennis Utt, flashed a "Go Army!" sign to cheers from the sidewalk.
Army supporters seemed to be having a good day.