Sharing a sun-splashed mix of fun and emotion, thousands came downtown Monday for Westport's Memorial Day parade and celebration paying tribute to the fallen in the nation's armed services.

More than 50 groups marched in the parade over a route more than a mile long, from Riverside Avenue over the Post Road bridge and up to Veterans Green across from Town Hall, where a ceremony of remembrance took place. Town officials, sports teams, marching bands, acrobats, creative floats, antique cars and -- most importantly -- some of Westport's military service veterans were represented in the event.

"We love coming to the parade," said Elaine O'Keefe of Westport. "The kids like to see the fire trucks and the candy gets thrown ..."

"It's exciting," said Larry Aasen, 91, a veteran of World War II. "The kids get so happy."

"There are very few of the World War II vets left," he said, but noted they're riding in cars now instead of marching.

"It was always a thrill for me to see the veterans," First Selectman Jim Marpe recounted of his early memories seeing Memorial Day parades.

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Along with acknowledging the older veterans and those who've lost their lives in service to the nation, he also expressed gratitude to current service people who hail from town.

"I am in awe of their accomplishments and the bravery with which they serve our country," he said.

Bob Satter, grand marshal of the parade and a World War II veteran, spoke of his experience in the Air Force, seeing it through rose-colored glasses when he was 19 when he joined in 1942.

"Only in the back of my mind did I realize that one day someone would be shooting at me," he said.

"If I could sum up flying combat missions ... in one phrase it would be hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror," Satter said.

"Please take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of this day," Marpe said. "We will be forever in your debt and we will always remember."