The smiling young men bound by allegiance to the U.S. military seemed naturally suited for the armored vehicles they were packed into Monday morning, but those vehicles were made for patrolling Iraq and Afghanistan terrain, not for rolling down 17th Street in Altoona.
They were part of the Veterans Day parade in the city, attended by a full crowd, including Linda Foust, dressed in an American flag-patterned coat appropriate for the mild weather and standing at the corner of 17th Street, as she does each year.
"I'm glad about the turnout. I have a lot of respect for the veterans," she said. "I do Christmas cards for deployed troops - I'm looking at several thousand this year from the region."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Casee Rooney, 5, of Altoona, watches the Altoona Veterans Day parade from her spot on 17th Street on Monday.
The Altoona Area Junior High School marching band played "The Army Goes Rolling Along," a World War II song and official song of the Army. And men lined the sidewalks who served in that war and those in Vietnam and Korea, too.
"It's hard to believe how many soldiers have died," Korean War veteran Bill Tremel said.
"You see [soldiers] going up and down here for the parade. You don't think that it's actually happening unless you're involved in it," he said.
Many veterans kept their experience to themselves when asked, but the impact their service had on them showed.
One Korean War veteran was noticeable for his white, high-and-tight hair cut.
"They cut it that way when I was in the Army and I kept it," he laughed.
He chatted about the classic Chevrolet, Ford and Buick cars in the parade, but he was self-effacing in talking about the slightest aspect of his service.
"There are more guys that really deserve the recognition. I don't deserve it," he said.
A World War II veteran quietly stood with a cane, wearing a hat, coat and thick glasses for his eyes which have seen things that perhaps he wished they had not.
"I think it's important, anyway, that people do remember veterans. Even if it's just a parade," he said.
Women and children turned out in abundance for the event. Former Altoona Mayor Tom Martin was pleased by the turnout.
"Veterans Day is a very important day in the history of the United States," he said. "I'm glad to see great turnout here. It's of tremendous importance that we continue to honor our veterans."