With a blanket of ominous gray clouds overhead and three small children at her side, Amber O'Brien-Verhulst was among a throng of people who showed up to cheer for participants in the Veterans Day parade Sunday morning in downtown Modesto.
Her face clouded with emotion and tears streamed down her cheeks as a group from the Central Valley Chapter of Blue Star Mothers and Families marched past her.
Seeing them hold pictures of their sons and daughters serving in Iraq and Afghanistan made O'Brien-Verhulst realize that these mothers won't get to be with their children for the holidays.
"I'm just so thankful that everyone I know is OK," she said.
About 200 spectators clapped loudly and waved U.S. flags, which whipped wildly in the chilly November wind. Despite their enthusiasm, the crowd was sparse compared with previous years, said several parade participants.
Last year's parade drew a crowd of a few hundred.
"Maybe it's because of the weather, but there should be more people. We have a lot more people show up for the Independence Day parade," said Warren Brumley, 71, a Vietnam veteran and member of American Legion Post 74 in Modesto.
A number of other Veterans Day parades took place Sunday, including Escalon, Merced, Gus-tine and Livingston.
A sold-out performance of "Honor the Heroes" was held at the Gallo Center for the Arts, featuring more than two hours of patriotic songs and perform- ances.
Fewer World War II vets
Korean War veteran Ray Alli, 74, marched in the Modesto parade alongside other members of the Legion. Alli said it is important to keep traditions such as the parade strong because there will always be veterans to honor.
"We're losing World War II veterans very fast. The Korean veterans are starting to take over. When they are 70 or 80 years old, the Vietnam veterans will start to take over," said Alli. "It is continuous. As long as we have presidents who put us in harm's way, we will have more veterans."
Groups marching in the parade included the Korean War Veterans Association, the Downey High School marching band and Stanislaus County Veterans Services.
Legion Commander Donna Huggins of Veterans of Foreign Wars Modesto Post 3199, told the crowd in front of the Stanislaus County courthouse that the day was about honoring all who have served in uniform, not just those who have fought in wars overseas.
"We might not have something to celebrate at all if it weren't for every veteran," Huggins said.
Four from area remembered
Although crowds were light at the morning parade, that wasn't the case in the afternoon at a Veterans Day celebration in the 1,252-seat Rogers Theater at the Gallo Center. In previous years, the event was held inside a hangar at Modesto Airport.
The event began solemnly with a flag-folding ceremony and unveiling of four portraits of area soldiers killed in combat, performed against a backdrop of a large flag and a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
A mix of performances and songs drew audience members to their feet several times throughout the rest of the event, including Dawn Peterson singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," music by the Johansen High School marching band and a medley of patriotic songs by the Golden Valley Barber Shop Chorus.
The Modesto Junior College Off Balance dance team performed a haunting piece titled "Age of Unrest" and The Acting Company performed an excerpt from the PBS special "War Letters," reading from letters by soldiers in wars ranging from Iraq to the first World War.
Organizer Steve Trapp thanked veterans for their serv-ice, adding that "it's great to see this place filled with people to do that."
Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at email@example.com or 238-4574.