ATLANTIC CITY — Spectators ignored the rain Monday to watch the inaugural Atlantic City Salutes America’s Armed Forces Parade march down the Boardwalk — a promising start to the newest kickoff for the Atlantic City Airshow.
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Everyone from generals and admirals to Smokey Bear to military bands to the Tony Boloney’s Mustache Mobile to a replica of the U.S.S. New Jersey made its way down the Boardwalk, adding a new attraction for those who were in town to catch the airshow Wednesday — and, hopefully, bring people to town earlier to spend more money.
“It’s so well-organized, it’s unbelievable,” said parade Grand Marshal Pinky Kravitz, who made his rounds amid the bands and floats as they waited for the parade to start.
“(Organizer) Charlie Coyle and his crew put this together. Can you imagine, 900 people lined up where they belong, a half-hour before the parade? I’m in wonder how he does this,” Kravitz said.
A happy, but drained Coyle said Monday’s parade was a challenge.
“It was a tough one, I used to do Miss America, so I’ve handled parades, but my phone was ringing all morning (with last-minute entries),” Coyle said.
After the parade, Coyle said he needed a hot shower to get the chill out of his bones, but after that, he was thinking about the future.
“It was a great parade, I hope we can do it again next year,” he said.
The parade kicked off just after its 6 p.m. start time, and while pauses for the rain created a few gaps, the festivities went smoothly, ending 90 minutes after it began when the last of 119 entries passed the Boardwalk Hall.
A crowd estimate was not available from police, but the crowds appeared to remain steady throughout the length of the Boardwalk, including a number of children — such as the one who yelled, “Battleship! Bam bam bam!” at the U.S.S. New Jersey replica.
The American Legion Riders from Somers Point led off the parade — “A really special honor,” said Riders Vice President Mike Merlino — followed by Kravitz, who had his own town crier shouting “Oyez! Oyez!” to rouse the crowd.
“It’s exciting,” said Vietnam Veterans Chapter 228 member Charles Terinoni, of Egg Harbor Township. “We welcome it.”
“It’s a good chance to show our colors,” said Korean War Veterans Chapter 234 Vice Cmdr. Bill Coulter, who showed off his bugling chops in front of Boardwalk Hall.
“And it’s always nice to see someone else older than myself,” added Korean War veteran Gil Boyer — adding that if it rained, as it threatened to, “I’ve always got my poncho.”
Though the black clouds seemed to have dissipated by parade time, it slowly started to drizzle as the parade moved on.
Jacqui Carole, of Atlantic City, simply held up her umbrella as she cheered her son-in-law, Marine Corps Col. Peter Ahern, as he rode by in a convertible — open-topped, though someone dressed as Uncle Sam made sure to close the top on his.
“I love it,” Carole said. “It really makes you appreciate all they’ve done for us.”
Some people just lucked into the parade, such as Mike and Rose Lisky of Schenectady, N.Y.
“We came down just to spend a week down here for the airshow,” Mike said. “We’re lucky, we get to see the airshow and a new parade.”
The biggest disparity in uniforms, meanwhile, was between the Rev. Ida Jones of American Legion Post 61 of Atlantic City, dressed in her Civil War re-enactor gear — “Because we want to make sure everybody knows the history of the armed forces,” Jones said — and the Wycked Kyss Girls of Atlantic City, who wore black bikinis and were pushed along the route in roller chairs.
A number of admirals and generals and other officers drew cheers from the crowd, including Gen. Carl Briscoe, 82, the first black U.S. National Guard general and an Atlantic City resident.
“Carl Briscoe!” Kravitz said upon seeing him before the parade. “God bless your little soul!”
But as the spectacle unfolded, U.S. National Guard Gen. Jim Grant was able to wander behind the crowds in front of the Boardwalk Hall, having completed his route in the back of a convertible.
“I’m just trying to hide back here,” he joked. “But it was nice. It’s really refreshing to see Americans come out in the weather and support all their soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It’s nice to see the World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans here. ... But the young men serving today in the armed forces — they’re the next greatest generation.”
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