Updated: November 9, 2013 at 7:20 pm
When retired Air Force Col. Skip Morgan returned from Vietnam more than four decades ago, the reception he received was hurtful and cold.
Protesters awaited him and his comrades at the San Francisco International Airport, Morgan said.
"It wasn't a great welcome," he said. "You kind of closed your eyes and thought, 'In a little bit, I'll see my family. They'll be happy to see me.'"
For Morgan, Saturday's annual Colorado Springs Veterans Day Parade more than made up for that soul-crushing day.
"It's never too little; it's never too late," said Morgan, who participated in the parade in an $800 custom-made replica of a 1917 Army Air corpsman's uniform in honor of World War I veterans.
Hundreds of onlookers lined Tejon Street Saturday morning as nearly 100 floats representing active-duty troops, veterans' groups, color guards, marching bands and other military-friendly groups made their way down the nearly mile-long parade route.
Onlookers clapped for every float. But the most ardent cheering was saved for troops and veterans.
"Thank you!" one woman cried, her voice faltering, as a convoy of veterans rode past.
"Marines!" bellowed a baritone-voiced man as a group of devil dogs motored past.
Among Saturday's parade participants were nearly 20 members of the Military Officers Association of America's Pikes Peak chapter.
More than a decade ago, local military charity The Home Front Cares co-founder retired Air Force Col. Joe Henjum was the chapter's lone representative in the parade.
When retired Army Col. Jim Mundt saw Henjum marching alone, he promised he'd join him the following year.
He's participated in the parade ever since.
Mundt says he marches in remembrance "of the guys who aren't here - physically, mentally" and those who never made it home from war.
"Some of us are fortunate," said Mundt, who wore a tweed green World War I-era military uniform that he received from his father, who fought in the war. "We need to remember that."
Fellow MOAA member retired Air Force chaplain Col. Robert Mossey said he marched in the parade a gesture of affection for the greatest nation in the world.
"I believe in our country, and this is the way I show it," Mossey said.
"If it snow two feet today, we'd still be doing this."
His favorite part of the parade: the children who give troops handmade cards saying "thank you" and "we love you."
"It's so wonderful," Mossey said wistfully, a tear forming in his eye.
As if on cue, 7-year-old Sarah Welsh walked up to Mossey and his comrades, a bag of cards in hand.
"Excuse me, are you a veteran?" asked Welsh, a member of a local American Heritage Girls troop.
"Yes, I am," answered another veteran, clad in a green battle dress uniform. "And so are my father and my son."
She handed him a large white envelope with glittery star stickers and the words "thank you" written on it.
"They could have died, so we have to thank them for our freedom," Sarah said.
Among the onlookers at Saturday's parade was retired Col. Bruce Morrell, who served more than three decades in the military and deployed in support of World War II and Vietnam.
As each group of troops passed Morrell, the 91-year-old stood up from his seated walker and saluted them.
"This restores my faith in the United States, to see all the young people," he said.
Witnessing the unwavering patriotism of wounded and elderly veterans such as Morrell moved parade participant Army Spc. Donald Watson to tears.
"Seeing veterans stand up out of their wheelchairs and salute will make you well up," said Watson, a combat veteran and aviation operations specialist stationed at Fort Carson.
"This is a great thing Colorado Springs is doing."