Red, white and blue flags fluttered in the breeze as police officers rode past crowds on motorcycles. Boy Scouts passed out small American flags, and the Florida Southern College’s ROTC battalion marched towards Munn Park.
The battalion marched as part of the Lakeland Veteran’s Day Parade, which takes place the Saturday before Veteran’s Day. The parade is planned by Retired Col. Gary Clark, chair of the Polk County Veteran’s Council.
Several organizations, including veterans’ organizations, local JROTC and ROTC programs and Boy Scouts, filled the streets.
Mackenzie Carlyon, senior cadet, was one of the cadets in charge of getting the battalion ready for the parade.
“We need to be able to honor those who fought before us and be there for them and show them how much we care and appreciate what they’ve done,” Carlyon said.
Although the parade is annual, some things were different.
“This year was a special year for us,” Lt. Col. Scott LaRonde said.
Unlike last year, both juniors and seniors participated.
“It’s something the juniors and seniors can do together as a class,” Carlyon said. “So we thought it would be a good experience if we had those two classes, since we’re closer, to do it together and be in the parade together.”
The battalion’s participation in the parade took some coordination. Cadets were participating in six other events for Veteran’s Day, including meeting with a World War II Honor Flight the day after the parade.
“We’re going to meet with the veterans that are going to go on the Honor Flight to Washington DC and get to talk to them before they go,” Carlyon said. “It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
The color guard, in particular, took some coordination.
“The color guard, they meet up, and they make sure they all know which way to go, how to hold the flag, how to hold the rifle,” Carlyon said. “They rehearse, and we have some people who’ve done it before, so they’re going to know what to do.”
Overall, LaRonde said that 33 of FSC’s cadets participated in the opening ceremony and parade. LaRonde, as the senior active duty officer in the area, spoke at the opening ceremony.
“It was my honor to do so,” LaRonde said.
Cadets also played an active role in the ceremony. Cadets formed the color guard and Senior Cadet Keith Sneed sang the National Anthem. Senior Cadet Jose Mascorro from Southeastern University gave the invocation and benediction.
Once the ceremony was over, the parade began.
“After the memorial ceremony we decide to have a march down here to Munn Park as a way of showing our appreciation for all of the veterans that have proceeded us, serving our great nation,” Lt. Col. David Koonce said.
Koonce is the senior army instructor for JROTC at Lakeland High school. During the parade, FSC’s battalion marched behind Lakeland High School’s JROTC program.
The parade ended in Munn Park as the Lakeland High School Dreadnaught Band played the National Anthem. Afterwards the different groups dispersed into the crowd, veterans, JROTC and ROTC mingling.