University of Wisconsin students and community members celebrated American veterans by holding the first Veteran's Day parade in Madison in over 20 years Friday.
Coordinated by the Associated Students of Madison's Support the Troops Campaign, nearly 70 Wisconsin and UW veterans, family members and supporters participated in the parade.
Accompanied by the UW Alumni band, participants marched down Gilman Street and State Street to Library Mall, concluding the parade with a commemorative silence in front of the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters.
Despite a handful of protesters outside the Historical Society, Air Force ROTC Honor Guard Commander Douglas Jensen was happy to participate in the parade and to honor the veterans.
"We haven't had a parade in a long time," Jensen, a UW junior, said. "These people were serving the country, and they deserve respect."
Onlookers lined the streets during the parade, applauding and shouting praise to the veterans as they marched.
ASM's Support the Troops Campaign had been planning the event since October, and parade coordinator Robert Thelen, a UW senior, felt the parade was overdue for a city he believes has shied away from supporting troops since the Vietnam era.
"ASM was the driving force behind this," he said. "We decided that this had to happen, that it was a necessity to have a Veteran's Day Parade."
Parade coordinator and ASM representative Brandon Sivret echoed Thelen's remarks and said the group hopes the parade will gain momentum in future years.
"I think next year we're going to see it increase by an incredible amount," he said. "This is one of ASM's great victories."
To keep the focus of the event on the veterans, Thelen added the parade was not a political statement and said he and others organized the event to exclude participants with any particular agendas.
"What we want to say is that Madison does support its veterans," he said. "It's not a right or left issue; it's about supporting the ones that gave us our freedom, the ones that fought and sacrificed so much."
Thelen said the parade was "100 percent for the veterans," including the 200 student veterans currently on campus.
Parade participants and many veterans were thrilled knowing UW students coordinated the event.
"I love the fact that the students are behind this and had the courage to put this on," Auxiliary President of FW Post 8483 Kathy Steensrud said.
Steensrud, a daughter of two World War II veterans and the wife of a Vietnam veteran, hoped the support would spread from the student body to the entire City of Madison.
Wisconsin National Guard Staff Sergeant James Skelton enjoyed the positive support from the crowd and said despite the anti-war protesters he was impressed by the number of supporters participating in the parade.
"There was a pretty good response on the streets, so maybe it's not as liberal of a town as you think," he said.
UW senior Amy Lunde watched the parade from the sidewalk and expressed her support by waving a small American flag.
"We need to honor and respect these veterans and what they did for our country and what the troops are doing now and what they will continue to do," she said.
Lunde said everyone should recognize the service of the veterans and was disappointed to see the anti-war protesters outside the Wisconsin Historical Society.
"I think to stand here against [the war] hurts that pride that we should have in America," she said. "It hurts our troops and it's disrespectful."