In an ideal world, all service men and women would be home for the holidays. As it turns out, not all will be stateside for this year's festivities.
To honor those whose who have returned, as well as those still away, the Kiwanis Club of Brooksville has chosen "I'll Be Home for Christmas — A Salute to Our Veterans" as the theme for Saturday's 38th annual Brooksville Christmas Parade.
The parade, which will begin at 10 a.m. and wind through downtown Brooksville, will have all wars dating to World War II represented.
"It was originally anticipated that 90 percent of our troops would be back stateside," said Karen Beasley of the Kiwanis Club, who is in charge of the parade lineup. "We thought this would be the best time to salute them, and veterans of all wars."
Thus, the parade will include five grand marshals:
Representing World War II will be Nick Morana, who was an Army Air Corps D17 radio operator, and who retired as a colonel in 1980.
Representing the Korean War will be Richard Mellinger, who joined the Navy in 1951 and served in Korea until 1953; he helped build the infrastructure needed for U.N. forces.
Representing the Vietnam War will be James Bravico, who joined the Marine Corps in 1966. Although trained as an electronics repair technician, he was deployed to the base at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, where he served as a rifleman. He returned in 1969.
Representing the Gulf War will be Joseph Mascaro, who joined the Marines in 1982 when he was 17. He was sent to Saudi Arabia in 1990 as combat engineer with 12th Marines 1st Marine Division, and was part of the ground war in Iraq in 1991. He retired as a gunnery sergeant in 2002.
And, representing the current Global War on Terror will be Lance Cpl. Josh Cooley, who was severely injured in a roadside attack in Iraq on July 5, 2005, six months after leaving his job as a Pasco County sheriff's deputy to serve with the Marine Corps Reserve. He suffered a head injury from bomb shrapnel.
"(Cooley) always brings tears to my eyes," Beasley said. "He wasn't expected to survive, much less recover the way he did."
Beasley said this year's parade will have more than 105 entries, including longtime favorites, such as the scores of Shriners in costume and driving motorcycles, go-carts and other motorized vehicles that "make the kids go crazy."
Also, spectators should keep an eye out for the parade program. This year's cover was designed by 10-year-old Hanna Murphy, a member of the Kiwanis K-Kids Club at Eastside Elementary School. It features a home with red, white and blue shingles that has been decorated for the holidays and includes a "welcome home" sign.
There should be plenty of candy and beads for everyone, Beasley said, though those items tend to be more plentiful toward the beginning of the route.
The route begins at Oakwood Drive, near Hernando High School, then proceeds south down Howell Avenue to Main Street. It crosses Jefferson Street, then makes left turns onto Broad Street and Bell Avenue, ending at Jefferson and Bell.
There will be plenty of parking in the two large lots at Hernando High, as well as ample spaces in lots downtown.
Beasley, who has been helping organize the parade for the past 11 years, says the chaos and work involved in the planning is worth it.
"To watch all those kids' faces … . I'm always in awe of how such a small town can put together something that can make a huge impact on these kids' lives," she said.
Other holiday events
The parade is just one of a handful of events this weekend throughout Hernando County:
Candy Cane Acre: 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 29, Hernando County Fairgrounds, 6436 Broad St., Brooksville. The event includes a walk-through light display, which will include Mrs. Claus' kitchen, a parade of trees, a play area and children's games, Santa's workshop, a Florida-style sleigh ride and Christmas caroling. Hot chocolate, hot cider, eggnog and soda will be available, as well as cookies, fudge and cupcakes. Admission is $10 per carload, which includes 10 free tickets that can be used toward food, drinks and games; additional tickets are 50 cents each. For information, call (352) 796-4552.
Winter Waterland: 6 to 10 p.m. today and Saturday, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee. There will be a special holiday-themed show performed in the Mermaid Theater, as well as shows by the wildlife department at the Riverside Theater and by AK Dance Away in the amphitheater. Other activities include Santa Claus visits, kids games and activities, music and lots of holiday decorations. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 5 to 12 and free for ages 4 and younger. For information, call the park at (352) 592-5656.
Weeki Wachee River Lighted Christmas Boat Parade: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, starting at the Weeki Wachee Marina, traveling past Rogers Park to the Bayport pier and returning to Rogers Park, 7244 Shoal Line Blvd., Weeki Wachee. The parade is open to all boat owners. The entry fee is an unwrapped toy or cash donation, to be donated to the Dawn Center. There is no cost for spectators. For information, call (352) 596-2852.
Hernando Heritage Museum Christmas Candlelight Tour: 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday, 601 Museum Court, Brooksville. The museum is housed in the 1854 May-Stringer house, a Victorian home that will feature decorated trees in each room and lit by candlelight. Light refreshments will be served. Jack and Company will provide Christmas music, with guitar and dulcimer accompaniment. The cost is $5. For information, call (352) 799-0129 or visit hernandohistoricalmuseumassoc.com.
Christmas storytelling and musical event: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sweetfields Farm, 17250 Benes Roush Road, east of Masaryktown. Storyteller Jerry Cowling will lead the stories and music, which will include an audience-participation version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Music will be provided by local entertainer Jonathan Widger. Refreshments will be served. Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for children. The event will be in the new Harvest Barn at the farm. For reservations, call (352) 279-0977.
Christmas on the Florida Frontier: 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, 7200 County Road 603, Bushnell. Visitors can make and play with homemade toys, create corn husk dolls, dip candles, listen to old-time music, sing carols, decorate a Christmas tree, make Christmas crafts and visit a soldier encampment. The park entrance fee is $3 per vehicle. For information, call (352) 793-4781.
Hernando Jazz Society Holiday Celebration: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Wellington Clubhouse, 400 Wexford Blvd., Spring Hill. Listen and dance to holiday favorites such as Winter Wonderland, Let it Snow and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Admission is free for society members and $10 for nonmembers. A cash bar and buffet lunch will be available for an additional cost. Nonmembers are asked to RSVP to (352) 835-7183 to ensure admittance into the Wellington community.
Nature Coast Festival Singers Christmas Concert: 3 p.m. Sunday, First United Methodist Church of Hudson, 13123 U.S. 19, Hudson. This is the final performance of the concert series. It features a brass ensemble, organ and choral arrangements by Walker, Silverman, Rutter, Averitt and the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. Also includes a special performance of O Holy Night by scholarship winner Alexis Pletincks. An offering will be collected. For information, call (352) 515-5335 or (352) 556-8549.
Tour of Historic homes: Tours will be offered at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Sunday, starting in the city parking lot on S Main Street, just south of the county Government Center. Four homes will be shown. The event is sponsored by the Brooksville Woman's Club. Tickets are $12. Call Yvonne Malone at (352) 796-6026 or (352) 848-7988.