Girl Scouts on floats, waving signs that read “Thank you soldiers” and a special tribute to Oklahoma troops were Oklahoma City St. Patrick's Day Parade additions not lost on members of the sizable crowd that amassed in Bricktown for the 30th annual event.
Two-time Iraq War veteran Cachet Hampton lives on Tinker Air Force Base with her family: husband Jamarl Hampton, a military training leader at Tinker, and daughters Janyah, 4, and Jaydah, 8 months.
Cachet Hampton said she noticed the signs of gratitude peppered throughout the parade, a new addition to the beauty queens, bagpipe players, Shriners and sheriff's deputies on motorcycles who passed by the crowd.
Janyah's favorites were the Disney heroines, such as Jasmin, Snow White and Cinderella.
It was Cachet Hampton's first St. Patrick's Day parade in Oklahoma City, she said. For the event, she donned a green wrap dress, green lipstick and green and gold eye shadow — Janyah got to wear the lipstick, too.
The parade began at 1 p.m. at NW 5 and Broadway before heading onto E.K. Gaylord Avenue and east on Sheridan Avenue in Bricktown. Parade organizer Fran Kozakowski called the turnout “absolutely the best” she'd ever seen.
About 10 a.m. Saturday, a special ceremony was held on the steps of the state Capitol, part of “Welcome Home the Heroes” events organized by a nonprofit group called the Welcome Home Foundation in conjunction with the parade.
State Sen. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, were among the volunteers who read the names of all Oklahoma soldiers killed since Sept. 11, 2001, to a crowd of about 40 gathered at the south steps.
Vietnam War veteran Charles Murphy, of Oklahoma City, was there to pay tribute to Oklahoma soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Murphy's organization, the National Association for Uniformed Services, lobbies for veterans rights in Washington. The group also set up a booth, part of “veterans resource village” near the parade route.
Murphy's group, and others, were there to help spread awareness about its resources, as well as issues affecting veterans, such as looming cuts to veterans' health benefits.
Murphy said he liked that the parade included veteran-friendly elements.
“When we came back, we were cussed at and spit at and called baby killers, he said. “Iraq and Afghanistan troops — the American citizens accept them.”
Army Maj. Rick Radford, of St. Louis, served two tours in Iraq since 9/11. He helped organize and promote “Welcome Home the Heroes” events in Oklahoma City and attended the parade Saturday. That group also arranged for Oklahoma veterans to march in the parade carrying “Welcome Home” signs.
The group used Facebook to spread the word about the parade and its veteran-friendly elements.
“It's been a fantastic day,” he said. “Veterans have come out and their families have come out. It's been a wonderful experience.”
Also Saturday in Oklahoma City, about 260 members of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team returned from Afghanistan and Kuwait. The return included 150 soldiers originally scheduled to return Sunday, resulting in the cancellation of a return ceremony scheduled at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base.
Oklahoma Army National Guardsmen from the 45th are in various stages of the demobilization process after 2,200 deployed to Afghanistan and 800 to Kuwait in June.