Streets of Branson swell with Veterans Day celebration

Monday, November 12, 2001

BRANSON, Mo. -- Dwey Cook couldn't help but think of the commitment and courage being shown by the troops fighting in Afghanistan as he watched the floats and color guard units parade down the main streets of this tiny resort town in honor of Veterans Day.

Cook and his family were among the thousands of people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder Sunday to watch Branson's 67th annual parade that is said to draw one of the country's largest crowds. The streets in the town, which is normally home to about 6,000 residents, were turned into a sea of red, white and blue as flags waved in the unusually warm wind.

Like many of those who attended the parade, Cook has seen war firsthand. He did two tours with the Navy in Vietnam; his son served in the Navy in the Gulf War.

"I served in a war that wasn't popular," said Cook, who lives in nearby Nixa. "But it's an honor to know that I served."

Cook brought his family to the parade to show respect for those now fighting for America and to honor those who went before them.

Grand finale

The parade is part of the grand finale to a celebration in Branson that is dubbed "A Veterans Homecoming." It traces back to 1993 when entertainer Tony Orlando opened his theater after the parade for a musical tribute to veterans and active-duty military personnel. It has grown into a weeklong celebration with a variety of salutes, tributes and reunions that has turned November into the city's busiest month for tourism.

This year's event was expected to draw about 150,000 visitors, although the final count was not yet tabulated. Organizers expected renewed patriotism and the attacks against Afghanistan to increase turnout by about 25,000 people.

"We need to put a stop to terrorism now. If we don't, the world won't be safe for my grandchildren," said Cook, as young Amber, 2, and Zack, 5, played in the street in front of him.

Cook said he was happy with the way the U.S. forces were progressing. He blamed the media for America's desire for a quick solution.

"I don't know how many times it's going to take for the President and Secretary of State to say this war won't be won in a week, or a month or a year for people to believe it," Cook said.

Freedom not free

Laverne Pett, who served in the Army in the Korean War, said the terrorism attacks on Sept. 11 served as a grim reminder that freedom is not free. "It woke America up to the fact that we might not always be able to keep war off of our soil," said Pett, of Osceola, Iowa.

Dean and Diane Hinson of Concordia, Kan., agreed that the terrorist attacks had made people more aware and more patriotic for this year's celebration. The couple came Branson with a tour group specifically for the veterans celebration.

"You kind of let things slide, and you don't really think about it until something like this happens," Diane Hinson said.

Gerald Casey, who served in the Marines during the Korean War, said he was thrilled to see so many people wearing patriotic hats, shirts and ribbons -- and waving flags.

"Patriotism is not dead," said Casey of Kimberling City.

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