"There’s an old saying, freedom isn’t free. And this is the day when we thank those who’ve served and make them understand how much we appreciate their service," said Representative Zoe Lofgren.
This annual tradition, themed "Heroes in Motion," returned to its normal routine this year.
"And this is a great way for us to celebrate in a safe, open, environment. And then pay homage to our veterans," said Col. Ray Watts, president of the United Veterans Council of Santa Clara County.
One of the vets on hand Thursday was 102-year-old Warren Upton. During World War II he lied about his age to enlist in the Navy. Then, while serving aboard the U.S.S. Utah, Upton survived the December 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor.
"I wanted to go ashore and go swimming at Waikiki. but I went swimming in the Pacific instead," he said. "It was (terrifying), but we came through."
Many of the men and women who attended the parade, rode in vintage vehicles, military transports, or walked along the route from Santa Clara Street to Market & Park Avenue. They all have tales of horror and heroism. They also share a love for their country that transcends race, religion, social class, or creed.
"We need to understand our obligation to them. we need to make sure we are providing them with education, with housing," said Representative Ro Khanna.
Mayor Sam Liccardo said during the opening ceremony the city is now providing housing for more homeless vets than the number of those who fall into homelessness.
"That is what they call functional zero of homelessness. We know what real zero means, which is we get everybody off the streets. but we’ve made incredible progress," said Liccardo.
A show of U.S. military strength was seen as a C-130 cargo plane and a Blackhawk helicopter flew in formation above Downtown San Jose, shortly before the parade began. Some pointed out military might is meaningless, without people willing to step forward and serve.