In late 1999, Mary Ellen Landry contacted Donna Leach Yates and Lt. Col. (ret) Dick E. Wilson with a proposed plan to form a committee to organize an annual Veterans Parade to be held on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on or near the observance of National Veterans Day. The three met with the executive director of the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce and the beginning of Mississippi’s first Annual Veterans Parade was born. The Parade would be held on the closest Saturday to the November 11th Veterans Day federal observance honoring military veterans. The date was set on a Saturday to provide an opportunity for school age children to learn civic pride, participate and attend the parade, as well as promote business for downtown merchants and store owners. Ms. Landry and 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 chose Vietnam Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Major General James E Livingston, (Ret.), United States Marine Corps 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 the September 11 attacks on American soil, 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 the nation’s recipients of the Purple Heart. Lieutenant General Bryan Shotts, (Ret.), United States Air Force former Keesler Air Force Base commander, served as the Parade Grand Marshal. Colonel (ret) Kirby Bernich was elected as the first 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, (Ret.), United States Air Force former 2nd Air Force Commander, at Keesler Air Force Base served as the Parade Grand Marshal. Sadly, prior to the 2002 parade, the first parade president, Colonel Kirby Bernich passed. Maj. Gen. James Garner, (Ret.) former Mississippi Adjutant General and parade board member was elected as the new President of the Veterans Parade. Lt. 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 the nation’s recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross. Also, there was a tribute to the men and women of our Nation’s Armed Forces who were deployed on foreign soil. The Honorable Jeremiah “Jerry” O’Keefe, Sr., former Marine Corps Ace Fighter Pilot in World War II and 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. Maj. Gen. James Garner continued to serve as Board President.
The 5th Annual Veterans Parade returned to Gulfport and was held Saturday, November 13, 2004, once again under the direction of board president General Garner. The 2004 parade honored Veterans of all Services, past and present. Col. Lawrence “Larry” Roberts, (Ret.), USAF former Tuskegee Airman and Vietnam War Veteran, was to serve as the Parade Grand Marshal but regrettably, he passed away.
Originally, the 6th Annual Veterans Parade was scheduled to be held in Biloxi in November 2005. But 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, General Garner and the board decided to forego the parade. President Garner and other officers continued in their previous positions on the board.
On November 11, 2006, the 6th Annual Veterans Parade was held in Biloxi as planned. Maj. 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. Sadly, Ms. Donna Yates, executive director passed after an illness 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 name was officially changed from the “Mississippi Annual National Veterans Parade” to the “Gulf Coast Veterans Parade, Inc.” General Garner took over as the parade treasurer, and Chief Master Sergeant Charles Carrigan was elected as board Vice-President.
The 7th Annual Veterans Parade was held in Gulfport on Saturday, November 10, 2007. Chief Warrant Officer-3 Lewis J. Shank (Ret.) 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 Sgt. Major Edward Horstman (Ret.), U.S. Army, a Korean and Vietnam Veteran. Chief Horstman was a prisoner of war during the Korean War and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star with Valor and Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with 3 Leaf Clusters, 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. 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 Maj. Adelchi Pilutti (ret.), United States Army, served as Grand Marshal. He served in the Army Airborne Division from January 1941 until November 1945 and parachuted into Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. Command Sergeant Major Pilutti received countless medals and awards. 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 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. There was special recognition to those who lost their lives while participating in the space program. Representatives from NASA and Stennis Space Center, located in southwest Mississippi were special guests. This marked the first year for the GCVP Grand Marshal to toss specially minted commemorative coins or doubloons to the crowds of spectators.
The 11th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was held for the first time in D’Iberville, Mississippi on Saturday, November 12, 2011. The Parade Grand Marshal was D’Iberville resident Albert “Al” Balius, a decorated WWII veteran. The theme was in tribute to all veterans from WWII. The veterans who attended the first Honor Flight trip were also invited to reserved seating or, if they preferred, ride in antique classic cars in the parade, including a gentleman who 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. 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 Col. Henry Cook, III (ret.) of Diamondhead. Colonel Cook threw special doubloons commemorating Veterans of the Vietnam era war. For the first time Vietnamese Veterans who were allies marched in the parade as guests of Colonel Cook. For the second year in a row, the Mississippi Math and Science High School Chorale group performed at the parade’s end. 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, Saturday, November 9 and the Grand Marshal was Col. Phyllis A. Luttman, (ret.) United States Air Force, Nurse Corps . 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. In 1984 Colonel Luttman was selected as a consultant and later Chief Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for O.R. nursing. 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 14th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans parade was hosted by the City of Biloxi for another consecutive year. The normal rotation called for the City of D’Iberville to host, but with major road improvements ongoing, they had to pass. The Grand Marshal 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 designated to the State of Mississippi 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 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.
The 16th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade organization, held November 12 in D’Iberville, Miss. honored Keesler Air Force Base with the 2016 parade marking the base’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. Two gentlemen, CWO4 Tom Adams and LtCol Henry Burkle, both stationed at Keesler Field during its inception in 1941, were the first Co-Grand Marshals for the Veterans Parade. The City of D’Iberville was 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 17th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was hosted by the city of Biloxi, November 11, followed by a Red White and Blue Festival on the city’s town green. The Grand Marshal was Command Master Chief Dick Wade who served a total of 45 years, 11 months and 3 days in the Armed Forces of the United States and retired in 1990. 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, Veterans from the Biloxi VA Hospital, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home residents attended. 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 18th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was held in Gulfport, MS November 10, with Thomas E (Butch) Harris, a multi-tour Vietnam Marine veteran, serving as the Grand Marshal. Sergeant Harris entered the U.S. Marine Corps in 1965 and served in Vietnam in 1966 as part of the Third Battalion and Third Force Reconnaissance. He was awarded two Bronze Stars with V for Valor, two Purple Hearts, two Marine Cops Meritorious Service Medals and many other decorations during his service. This year’s parade kicked off at Hwy 49, rolled towards Hwy 90 in Gulfport and concluded at Jones Park. The parade included all branches of active military service ROTC units, high school bands, veterans’ organizations, as well as civic and corporate groups from around the state. For 11th year in a row, the Department of Veterans Affairs chose the Mississippi Gulf Coast as the state’s Regional Site for the celebration of Veterans Day 2018.
The 19th Annual Gulf Coast Veterans Parade was held in D'Iberville, MS November 9, with Gene Taylor serving as the Grand Marshal. Mr. Taylor was the U.S Representative for Mississippi’s 4th congressional district from 1989 to 2011 and is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran. This year’s parade honored the mission of the Coast Guard. The event culminated with a “Red, White and Blue” festival following the parade at D’Iberville’s Town Green, featuring musical entertainment, food vendors and military static display exhibits. This year marked the 12th consecutive year the Department of Veterans Affairs selected the Gulf Coast Veterans Parade as a “Regional Site” location.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic changed traditional parade activities in 2020, the board was determined to celebrate the 20th Anniversary with a virtual "Roll Through & Wave" event broadcast on social media and seen by hundreds of people. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Corvette Club and other military vehicles drove through the Biloxi VA Hospital and Armed Forces Retirement Home properties on November 7 at a safe distance as residents waved back. The event continued the mission of celebrating and honoring our Veterans, and board members anticipate going back to producing a traditional parade in Biloxi in 2021.