In late 1999, Mary Ellen Landry contacted Donna Leach Yates and Dick E. Wilson with a proposed plan to form a committee whose purpose would be to conduct an annual Veterans Parade to be held on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on or near the observance of National Veterans Day. The three then met with the Executive Director of the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce and the beginning of Mississippi’s first Annual Veterans Parade was born. Each had ties to the military. Mary Ellen Landry was married to a retired Air Force NCO; Donna Yates was married to a retired Army NCO and was the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran (KIA) Chief Warrant Officer-2 James Willis Leach; and Dick E. Wilson was a retired Lieutenant Colonel, Air Force Fighter Pilot and Vietnam Veteran.
It was determined that the Parade would be held on the closest Saturday to the November 11th Memorial Day federal holiday honoring military veterans. The primary reason to set the date on a Saturday was to provide an opportunity for school age children to learn civic pride, participate and attend the Annual Veterans Parade as well as promote business for the downtown merchants and store owners.
A committee of volunteers was soon formed and Ms. Landry and Ms. Yates were elected by the Committee to serve as Co-Chairs for the first Veterans Parade. The Mississippi Gulf Coast towns of Biloxi and Gulfport both agreed to host the parade on alternating years.
In 2000, it was determined that the City of Gulfport was the best prepared at the time to host the first Veterans Parade on Saturday, November 11, 2000. The Committee then chose Vietnam Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Major General James E Livingston, United States Marine Corps (Retired), as the first Veterans Parade Grand Marshal. The theme for the 2000 Parade paid tribute to the Silver Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
With patriotic feelings at an all-time high following “9-11”, plans quickly materialized for the 2nd Annual Veterans Parade. Once again, Gulfport played host and the parade was held on Saturday, November 10, 2001, in tribute to our Nation’s recipients of the Purple Heart. Lieutenant General Bryan Shotts, United States Air Force (Retired), former Keesler Air Force Center Commander, honored the committee by serving as the parade Grand Marshal. Colonel (Ret) Kirby Bernich was elected as the 1st President of the newly formed Board of Directors for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Veterans Parade.
In 2002, the Parade Board and Committee members continued to draw interest and support. The 3rd Annual Veterans Parade was held in the City of Biloxi in tribute to the Silver Star Medal for Valor Recipients. Lieutenant General Clark Griffith, United States Air Force (Retired), former 2nd Air Force Commander, Headquarters Keesler Air Force Base served as the Parade Grand Marshal. Prior to the 2002 Parade, the Parade Board and Committee were saddened by the loss of the first Parade President, Colonel Kirby Bernich, who passed away. Major General James Garner, former Mississippi Adjutant General (Retired) and Parade Board Member was elected as the new President of the Veterans Parade. Lieutenant Colonel Dick Wilson was elected Vice-President and Ms. Donna Yates was employed as the Executive Director.
The 4th Annual Veterans Parade was held again in Biloxi on Saturday, November 8, 2003, in honor of our Nation’s Recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross and in tribute to the men and women of our Nation’s Armed Forces who were deployed and fighting for the security of our Nation and liberation of the depressed people on foreign soil. Honorable Jeremiah “Jerry” O’Keefe, Sr., former Marine Corps Ace Fighter Pilot in World War II and the former Mayor of Biloxi, served as the Parade Grand Marshal. Mr. O’Keefe was also the recipient of the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Major General James Garner continued to serve as Board President.
The 5th Annual Veterans Parade returned to Gulfport and was held on Saturday, November 13, 2004, once again under the direction of Board President Garner. The 2004 Annual Parade honored all Veterans of all Services, Past and Present. Colonel Lawrence “Larry” Roberts, USAF (Retired), former Tuskegee Airman and Vietnam War Veteran was to serve as the Parade Grand Marshal, but, regrettably, Colonel Roberts passed away just prior to the event.
Originally, the 6th Annual Veterans Parade was scheduled to be held in Biloxi in November 2005. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was struck by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. Due to the mass destruction of life and property caused by this natural disaster, Major General Garner and the Board decided to forego the parade this year. President Garner and other officers continued in their previous positions.
The following year on November 11, 2006, the actual 6th Annual Veterans Parade was held in Biloxi as planned. Major General Harold Cross, Mississippi’s Adjutant General, served as the Parade Grand Marshal. The theme for the 2006 Parade was to honor all our Veterans who had returned from previous wars and helped in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Once again, tragedy struck the ranks of the dedicated team of the Veterans Parade. Ms. Donna Yates, the tireless and dedicated Executive Director died of Lupus just prior to the parade. Lieutenant Colonel Dick Wilson was elected as Board President and the Gulf Coast Annual Veterans Parade received a 501(c) Non-Profit status. The new organization name for the Annual Veterans Parade became the Gulf Coast Veterans Parade, Inc. with this nonprofit status operating exclusively for the promotion of civic pride. Major General Garner took over as the Parade Treasurer, and Chief Master Sergeant Charles Carrigan was elected as the Board Vice-President.
The 7th Annual Veterans Parade was held in Gulfport on Saturday, November 10, 2007. Chief Warrant Officer-3 Lewis J. Shank (Retired) served as Parade Grand Marshal. The Parade was dedicated to the Veterans of the Gulf War and the many service members that had lost their lives in battle. Lieutenant Colonel Wilson continued to serve as the Board President and other officers and committee chairmen continued in previous positions.
The 8th Annual Veterans Parade was held in Biloxi on Saturday, November 8, 2008. The Parade Grand Marshal was Command Sergeant Major, Edward Horstman (Retired), United States Army, a Korean and Vietnam Veteran. Chief Horstman was a prisoner of war during the Korean War. A highly decorated hero, Chief Horstman received the Distinguished Service Cross, The Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, The Bronze Star with Valor and Oak Leaf Cluster, The Purple Heart with 3 Leaf Clusters, The Air Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation and several other Campaign Military Awards. The Parade was dedicated to all Veterans that served in our Armed Forces during the years of the Vietnam War. All officers and chairman remained in their previous positions. This was the first year the Gulf Coast Veterans Parade received the National Veterans Administration Regional Site Recognition designation.
The 9th Annual Veterans parade was held in Gulfport on Saturday, November 7, 2009. Command Sergeant Major, Adelchi Pilutti, United States Army, who served in the Army Airborne Division from January 1941 until November 1945 and parachuted into Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, serving as Parade Grand Marshal. A highly decorated war hero, Command Sergeant Major Pilutti received countless medals and awards. It was noted that while serving in the Army National Guard in later years, he served under Major General Garner prior to retiring from the Guard. The Parade paid tribute to all the man and women who served in the Armed Forces and their supporting units during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The 10th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans parade was held in Biloxi on Saturday, November 13, 2010. The Parade Grand Marshal was former Apollo 13 Mission Pilot, former fighter pilot and Biloxi native, Astronaut Fred Haise. The parade had the greatest number of marchers, floats, and riders since year one of the parade. The theme was a tribute to all Past, Present and Future Astronauts in the United Stated Space Program and the many, many outstanding units supporting the command. Many of the participants in the program, both Astronauts and immediate support personnel were and are former military pilots in various branches of the service. There was special recognition to those who have lost their lives while participating in the space program. NASA and the Stennis Space Center, located in southwest Mississippi was invited to be represented and were special guests for this annual event. This marked the first year for the GCVP Grand Marshal to toss specially minted commemorative coins or doubloon to the crowds of spectators.
The 11th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was held in D’Iberville, Mississippi on Saturday, November 12, 2011. The Parade Grand Marshal was D’Iberville resident Albert “Al” Balius. Mr. Balius was a decorated WWII veteran. He threw a special 2011 Grand Marshal doubloon. This parade is the first time it will be held in D’Iberville. It became one of the largest and best of the parades that had been held. The theme was in tribute to all veterans from WWII. As a special treat D’Iberville sponsored a float that had many local veterans from WWII riding. The Veterans of WWII who attended the first Honor Flight trip were also invited to attend with reserved seating or, if they preferred, to ride in antique classic cars in the parade in their honor. One such gentleman was a 100-year old Veteran of WWII. The parade ended at the new D’Iberville Town Green where several static displays were erected along with guest entertainment. As a special event the Mississippi Math and Science High School Chorale preformed at the Town Green. This was the fourth year in a row that the Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was awarded a designation as an official Veterans Day Regional Site by the Veterans Day National Committee.
The 12th Annual Gulf Coast Parade returned to Gulfport on November 10th, 2012. The Grand Marshal was Henry Cook, III of Diamondhead. Col (Ret) Cook threw special doubloons commemorating Veterans of the Vietnam era war. For the first time Vietnamese Veterans who were allies marched in the parade which was in honor of their friend, Col. (Ret) Henry Cook. For the second year in a row, the Mississippi Math and Science High School Chorale group performed at the parade’s end. We were very happy to welcome the Armed Forces Retirement Home residents who had just moved back into their new home in Gulfport after Hurricane Katrina had damaged the original quarters. For the second year, the WWII Honor Flight Veterans were given reserved seating or were driven in classic antique vehicles in the parade.
The 13th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was hosted by the City of Biloxi and the Grand Marshal was Phyllis A. Luttman, Colonel, United States Air Force, Nurse Corps (Retired). Colonel Luttman served on active duty for thirty years beginning in October 1960, two years in the Air Force Reserve and retired in January 1993. Colonel Luttman, while serving as a Flight Nurse and Flight Nurse Instructor from 1968 to 1970, designed and taught the mandatory course to all physicians, nurses and technicians on the aeromedical equipment used aboard the various aircraft. After training at the Bird Respirator Corporation in California, Colonel Luttman assisted in the design of a baffle system used for respirators used on all aeromedical flights worldwide. She was a member of a two-person team which evaluated and medically accepted the new McDonald Douglas DC-9 flying hospital, the Nightingale. Colonel Luttman was not only a member of the four-person concept team to design the Operating Room (O.R.) portion of the air transportable hospitals now used worldwide, but in 1984, was selected as a Consultant and later as the Chief Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for O.R. Nursing serving in that role until her retirement. The 2013 parade marked the first year to have a female Grand Marshal. This was also the sixth consecutive year that the Department of Veterans Affairs selected the Gulf Coast Veterans Parade as a “Regional Site” location. The parade was held in downtown Biloxi on Saturday, November 9th.
The 14th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans parade was hosted by the City of Biloxi for the second consecutive year. The normal rotation would have taken the parade to the City of D’Iberville but with major road improvements ongoing, it was decided to delay D’Iberville hosting until all road construction was complete. The Grand Marshal in 2014 was Clifford “Cliff” Kuykendall, the lone survivor of the USS Tullibee Submarine that was sunk in World War II. All 52 submarines that were destroyed during WWII were set to be memorialized by a designated State – Mississippi was chosen to memorialize the USS Tullibee. The Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was recognized for the 7th consecutive year as a Regional Site Designation by the National Veterans Administration. The 2014 parade stepped off at 11AM and traveled down the streets of Biloxi ending at the 2nd Annual Red White & Blue on the Green Festival complete with static displays, entertainment, arts/crafts and food vendors at the Biloxi Town Green.
The 15th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was hosted by the City of Gulfport on Saturday, November 7, 2015, with massing of the colors at the 11th hour ceremony along the parade route on US Highway 49. This year marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and was dedicated to the Mississippi National Guard for their recovery efforts in the aftermath of this natural disaster. The Grand Marshal was Major General Augustus “Leon” Collins, the Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard. The parade included all branches of active military service along with ROTC units from around the state, High School Bands, Veterans Organizations, as well as Civic and Corporate groups. This year marked the third annual “Red, White & Blue in Jones Park” Festival immediately following the parade. Musical entertainment, food vendors and military static display exhibits will be situated in Jones Park for a fun filled salute after the parade for our Veterans.
The 16th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade organization honored Keesler Air Force Base with the 2016 parade marking Keesler’s 75th Anniversary. We were fortunate to have two gentlemen who in 1941 were stationed at Keesler Field during its inception to serve as Grand Marshals. The two gentlemen, CWO4 Tom Adams and LtCol Henry Burkle were the first co-Grand Marshals for the Veterans Parade. The City of D’Iberville acted as the host city for the 16th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade on Saturday, November 12, 2016. Once again, the GCVP was selected as a “Regional Site” destination for the ninth consecutive year by the National Veterans Administration.
The City of Biloxi acted as the host city to the 17th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade and the Red White and Blue on the Green Festival. The parade was held on the observed November 11th, Saturday, in downtown Biloxi. The year 2017 marked the 75th Anniversary of the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport. The Grand Marshal selected to lead the parade was Command Master Chief Dick Wade. CMC Wade served a total of 45 years, 11 months and 3 days in the Armed Forces of the United States and retired in 1990 as the Command Master Chief for NMCB 74 stationed in Gulfport. The 2017 parade surpassed the previous numbers of participants in the parade. Veterans from all around the state attended and were entertained by the Mississippi National Guard Jazz Combo on the steps of Biloxi City Hall and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant spoke to the crowd from the review stand prior to the parade arriving. There were WWII Veterans riding in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Corvette Club vehicles, and Veterans from the Biloxi VA Hospital plus the Armed Forces Retirement Home in attendance. The marchers came from all around the state to participate in this auspicious occasion. Again, the National Veterans Administration selected the City of Biloxi and Gulf Coast Veterans Parade as a Regional Site Designation making it the tenth consecutive year for this honor. The parade ended the day at the Red White & Blue on the Green Festival with informational booths, food and arts/crafts vendors. Musical entertainment was again led by the Mississippi School for Math and Science “Blue Notes” who performed beautifully as spectators and participants in the parade relaxed at the Biloxi Town Green.
The Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade celebrates it's 20th Anniversary as Mississippi's only sanctioned Veterans Day Parade by the national VA. From the first parade downtown Gulfport on November 11, 2000, this annual tradition on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has traversed the cities across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, hosting hundreds of thousands of participants and attendees over the past two decades. Each year, traditional parade participants have included hundreds of marching troops, ROTC and JROTC Units, Boy and Girl Scout Units, American Legion and VFW Posts, Purple Heart Units, Disabled Vets, Biloxi Veterans Affairs Center, Bands from Middle Schools, High School and Colleges, local and state VIP’s and Dignitaries, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, motorcycle groups, and mini-flyovers. The number of participants continue to grow every year, making it one of the largest, if not the largest Veterans Parade celebrations in the southeast.
The 19th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was held in D'iberville, MS in November of 2019, with Grand Marshall Gene Taylor.
Though COVID-19 has changed our 20th Anniversary from our traditional parade activities, we ask that you join us to continue to celebrate our Veterans via our first ever VIRTUAL STREAM of a private "Roll Through & Wave" event taking place at the Biloxi VA Hospital and Armed Forces Retirement Home.