Three days of festivities surrounding the Atlantic City Airshow began tonight with the second annual Atlantic City Salutes America’s Armed Forces Parade, which was scheduled to step off at 6:30 p.m. at New Jersey Avenue. The start, however, was delayed by at least a half-hour.

Floats, bands and marchers — 144 units in all, at last check — will march past the VIP viewing stand in front of Boardwalk Hall until the parade reaches its end at Albany Avenue about two miles away. The parade, expected to last about two hours, will include 18 floats, 17 beauty queens and six high school bands, organizer Charlie Coyle said.

Six grand marshals from five branches of the armed forces will be honored before returning to a spot on the reviewing stand. From the Army is Major Gen. William A. Matz; former city resident Rear Adm. Mark Buzby for the Navy; from the Air Force, Col. Ann Logan and Col. Barbara Regan; Col. Alan Smith from the Marine Corps and Capt. William A. Kelley of the U.S. Coast Guard.

In addition, among the first things spectators will see — besides a fleet of 50 motorcycles — will be a riderless horse, complete with an honor guard, commemorating Army Tech. Sgt. Harold R. Brown, the first Atlantic City resident to die in World War II. Also, a late addition to the parade is 92-year-old Bill French of Hamilton Township, who was recently awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for service with the black Montford Point Marines unit during that same conflict.

“It looks great,” said Pinky Kravitz, The Press of Atlantic City columnist and WOND radio host who established the parade last year. “We’re just thrilled with what’s taking place. ... Everybody is aimed and ready to go.”

Kravitz added that in addition to the 5,000 American flags being distributed by the Atlantic City Alliance, each marcher and participant will also be given a flag.

Last year’s parade took place during a steady downpour, and the forecast for this year’s parade isn’t much better. The National Weather Service predicted a 50 percent chance of rain and a chance of thunderstorms.

But Coyle isn’t worried.

“This is the military,” Coyle said. “They fight in the mud. Whatever (the weather), we’ll go for it.”

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