May 28th, 2006 12:14 EST
Indy 500 Weekend Kicks Off With Parade Featuring Military
Before drivers start their engines today to run the 90th Indianapolis 500, another long-standing tradition had people on their feet yesterday.
The 49th annual Indy 500 Festival Parade paid tribute to Indiana's rich culture, as well as the nation's military.
Marching through downtown Indianapolis, the parade offered colorful balloons and floats as well as opportunities for the crowd to show their appreciation for servicemembers.
The crowd rose in waves as honor and color guards bearing the Stars and Stripes led the parade.
"It makes me proud to be around all these other people that have experienced why our country's free," Indiana Army National Guard Spc. Ryan Rees, of C Company, 113th Medical Support Battalion, said. He was speaking not only of his fellow servicemembers, but also those they have fought for.
Rees and more than a dozen other servicemembers representing each of the five services participated in the parade at the invitation of the American Legion. Military participation in the parade is a constant, Lt. Col. J.R. Newman, with the Indiana Air National Guard's 181st Fighter Wing, said.
"The whole weekend leading to the Indy 500 and then all the way through to Memorial Day is all about the military," he said, praising the patriotic spirit of the city.
"It's just tradition," he added. "It's kind of neat to be a part of it."
Judging by the crowd's reaction to the troops, it's a tradition Hoosiers are proud of, too. From the beginning to the end of the route the reaction was the same. People stood and cheered as the American Legion float, "Legacy of Service," rolled past.
John Byers, of Avon, Ind., waved his ball cap in the air as he cheered for the troops. "(The troops) stand up for us, and they protect us," Byers, a 7th grader, said. "I think it's good that they can take part in this and get away from the hard work they do."
Also in the parade, an America Supports You banner stated, "We Support You Our Military Men and Women." The banner provided the Web site for the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights grassroots and corporate support for servicemembers and their families.
The parade passed through Monument Circle, a traffic circle in the center of Indianapolis containing a monument to Revolutionary War veterans, before it concluded. The military tribute continues today, when five servicemembers, one from each service, will sing the National Anthem before the Indianapolis 500.