Edgardo Martinez walked steadily up Fifth Avenue with his fellow military veterans on Sunday, showing off his regal wave.
“I was practicing this in the mirror for two hours before I woke up this morning,” he said with a laugh, holding a cupped hand in the air and turning it slowly from side to side as he acknowledged the calls of “Thank you!” from the throngs of onlookers packing the sidewalks and waving miniature American flags for the city’s annual Veterans Day Parade.
Martinez, GS, joined roughly 60 Columbia veterans and their family members to march in the parade, which honors the service of both active-duty and retired soldiers.
For the fourth year in a row, the School of General Studies co-sponsored the parade, which Columbia students attended in such large numbers that the float could not hold them all at once. There are 271 veterans enrolled in GS this year.
Most of the Columbia delegates traded their traditional military dress for civilian clothing—a move they said was a demonstration of their transition into civilian life. Rather than a uniform, almost every veteran boasted a Columbia lapel pin.
“I want to make a complete transition,” said Anthony Pusatory, SIPA ’14, a former embassy guard who wore a simple black suit to the parade. “I don’t want to be one of those old guys who lives in the past and talks about his army days all the time.”
Over the course of their half hour-long procession through Midtown, the Columbia veterans marched alongside various floats from other schools and organizations, including Pace University and the Wounded Warrior Project. The Columbians followed one of the parade’s many marching bands, which some veterans joked was bringing out their instincts to march to military hymns.
Columbia University Milvets, a GS organization that also includes military veterans from the University’s other graduate and undergraduate colleges, helped assemble the Columbia delegation. Richard Baldassari, GS ’14, the president of the Milvets, said the event was a combined effort between GS and Milvets.
Baldassari encouraged vets to bring along their families, which he said would help foster a sense of community both among Columbia veterans and veterans citywide. Many brought their spouses and children, some of whom lightheartedly climbed on the float before it began its journey uptown from 29th Street to 52nd Street.
Heidi Harris, whose husband Malcolm Harris served two tours in Iraq before attending Columbia Business School, brought the couple’s baby daughter along. She said she wanted to go to celebrate Malcolm’s service.
“I kicked his ass out the door because I wanted to come, and I wanted people to recognize the men and women that served,” she said. “I always try to make him stand up at baseball games too. But he doesn’t, so I do it for him.”
Throughout the parade, many veterans expressed gratitude for the well-wishers who came out to cheer them on, saying they received nothing but support from city residents.
Captain Brandon Anderson, Business ’14, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was one of the few active soldiers in the Columbia delegation, said he was happy to serve in a country that honored its veterans.
“The American soldier is the envy of every one of our allies because of the support of the American people,” Anderson said. “It’s a great day to be a soldier.”