PHOENIX -- The theme of this year's Veterans Day Parade, one of the largest in the country, is "Saluting America's Veterans."
"Because I come from a military family, being asked to emcee the Veteran's Day Parade here in Phoenix means a great deal to me," O'Kelley said. "It is a personal honor and one that comes with a great deal of emotion -- both happy and sad. My great grandfather, my grandfathers, my dad and two of his brothers are veterans.
"This holiday has always been a time of reflection and story telling for our family," she continued. "[It's] a day to remember the sacrifices made by men and women who volunteer to fight for the freedom we get to enjoy daily as Americans."
Already a special holiday for O'Kelley and her family, they were recently given another reason to celebrate.
"This is also my son's second birthday!" she explained. "On the day he was born, there were tears of joy for obvious reasons certainly. There were also tears shed knowing this would be a day my little boy could celebrate with his grandpa for a lifetime."
The parade steps off from North Phoenix Baptist Church at Central Avenue and Bethany Home Road. Nearly 100 groups, including bands, floats, marching units and military vehicles, will make their way south on Central Avenue, turning east on Camelback Road and then south again on Seventh Street, ending at Seventh Street and Indian School Road at 2 p.m.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to line the parade route.
The popular parade dates back to 1996, picking up a major sponsor, Phoenix VA Health Care System, the next year. The VA sponsored the event until last year.
The loss of that sponsorship came amid controversy and made the parade's future uncertain.
The city of Phoenix promised its support in April, ensuring that the 2013 parade would happen.
"Veterans are the pride of our community; they risked their lives for us," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said. "This parade is a Phoenix tradition to show our gratitude for our service men and women. I can't imagine Veterans Day in our city without a show of thanks in this parade for our troops."
Arizona Public Service and Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Plant stepped up to sponsor the beloved parade, which is now presented by Honoring Arizona's Veterans. Other sponsors include General Dynamics, KTAR, 3TV, Law Tigers, Choice Hotels International and United Healthcare Military & Veterans.
Veteran Grand Marshals for the parade include:
- Jack Moseley, World War II Veteran, Gunner, US Air Force, Scottsdale
- Kenneth Jordan, Korean War Veteran, Combat Infantry, US Army, Wickenburg
- Col. Gobel James, Vietnam War Veteran and ex-Prisoner of War, Pilot, US Air Force, Scottsdale
- Mary Ellen Kenworthy, Cold War, medical service, US Air Force, Phoenix
- Juan and Christine Martinez, husband and wife, Desert Storm, US Navy Boatswains mates, Chandler (Christine is a former 3TV producer)
- Luis Narvais III, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Infantry, US Marine Corps, Glendale
- Brian Mancini, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Infantry, US Army, Surprise
Celebrity Grand Marshals are the Patriotic Rock Band Madison Rising, whose vocalist Dave Bray served in the U.S. Navy for four years as an 8404 FMF Corpsman for 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines. Other parade dignitaries include Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Alfred Rascon, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick; Secretary of State Ken Bennett; Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery who also serves as an adviser to the board of Honoring Arizona’s Veterans, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton as Phoenix Community Grand Marshal; Phoenix Vice Mayor Bill Gates; APS/Palo Verde Senior Vice President Jeff Guldner as Business Community Grand Marshal; Lexe Richardson, Ms. Teen United States Grand Marshal; and Melanie Britton, Ms. Magnificent Woman International Grand Marshal.