Oliver North speaks in Clovis before leading Veterans Day parade

CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hours before leading the largest Veterans Day parade in the country, decorated war hero Oliver North spoke to military and non-military families alike.

Speaking to veterans as well as non-military families, North took part in a solemn ceremony Thursday night that's rarely open to the public and was laid out for all to see.

As Marines past and present celebrated, the few, the proud turned 241 years young.

"It's something that is celebrated worldwide, whether it's combat or peacetime," Veterans Parade CEO Dan Payne said.

On the eve of the largest Veteran's Day parade in the country, hundreds of people gathered for the annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball. Those who gathered remembered those who died and witnessed a changing of the guard.

"For me, an older Marine, to be able to look at these guys and say, 'You know what, the Marine Corps is still intact. We have generations of hard chargers that will carry on the Marine Corps tradition," Payne said.

At a time of transition on Capitol Hill and extended conflict in the middle east many looked for guidance. And some found it in retired Lt. Col. Oliver North.

"Remarkably, in spite all of the challenges, they continue to come," North said. "And they came because they want to protect our country and I think it's a noble ideal."

Through pictures and stories, North shared the camaraderie, the joy and the pain of serving. Those who serve are sometimes lost and other times forgotten to outsiders.

"This is the longest war in history," North said. "I always thought the war I was in, Vietnam, was the longest war until this one came along. It's taken a terrible toll, more than 7,000 killed."

That loss never more clear than on this day as he reminded the crowd his highly decorated history of service was only built on the shoulders of other Marines and veterans.

"I don't know if they are inspired," he said. "But I'm inspired to be with them."
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