What: 62nd annual Armed Forces Day parade
When: 10:30 a.m. Friday
Where: Starts at M.L. King Boulevard and Market Street and will travel along Market to Third Street
Activities: Military equipment display at Ross's Landing and luncheon to follow at the Chattanooga Convention Center
On Aug. 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department - the Department of Defense.
Source: Department of Defense
John Lopez, a retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer, relishes the chance to salute his fellow military members during Friday's Armed Forces Day parade, especially in light of the recent glory his fellow servicemen earned by killing terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
"I love doing these things involving veterans," Lopez said. "I know it sounds corny and cheesebally, but I can't do enough."
Tennessee Army Air National Guard Maj. Marty Malone will be master of ceremonies for the parade, his way of helping since 2004. The parade is in its 62nd year.
"It works like clockwork," he said. "I bet there's probably nothing that works this smooth."
One common misconception he's always having to clear up is the day itself. It's not Memorial Day, nor Veterans Day, nor is it the Fourth of July.
Armed Forces Day honors everyone who has served in the military. Memorial Day honors the war dead. Veterans Day recognizes those who have served in conflict and the Fourth is for historic patriotism.
Each year, the parade focuses on one of the military branches - this year it's the Marine Corps, last year was the Navy.
The guest speaker will be 23-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Levi Cunningham, an Athens, Tenn., native who is serving in a Wounded Warrior unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Kevin B. Kuklok will serve as the reviewing officer, Malone said.
As the parade groups pass the reviewing stand, Kuklok will recognize them, often with a salute. In a strictly military parade, the reviewing officer is the senior officer of the command who reviews the troops for good order and discipline, Malone said.
The official Armed Forces Day is held on May 21, but Malone said the local committee holds its parade earlier to involve schools.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Burt Sawyer has arranged downtown seating for the parade for more than 16 years. In recent years not many schools brought students, he said, but this year he had to find three additional sets of bleachers to accommodate the nearly 100 students planning to come.
Chattanooga and Hamilton County workers help transport, assemble and disassemble much of the seating, he said.
Lopez seeks to honor Vietnam War veterans and prisoners of war with a Southeast Asia-motif float.
Lopez was a search-and-rescue specialist, joining the Navy in 1984, and said nearly all of his mentors had served in Vietnam and impressed upon him the importance of remembering POWs.
After six years sitting in the back of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council meetings, listening respectfully and taking odd jobs for the parade - setting up portable toilets, handing out walkie-talkies - Lopez had an idea.
Years of watching cars with people seated in them with fewer and fewer floats seemed a little dull.
"I thought, 'Wow, something's got to give, we've got to put some more zing into it,'" he said.
So he and fellow sailor David Schuch began construction on a special float at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post 4848 in Chattanooga.
What's next is for the paradegoers to see.