It was a beautiful day for a parade in Petaluma, where tens of thousands of people Saturday lined downtown streets for the city’s annual Veterans Day celebration.

Onlookers applauded and waved as military color guards and drill teams strolled along with antique cars, marching bands and first responders in the parade’s 31st year.

In all, there were more than 200 parade entries, plus a few more if you count the planes and helicopters that buzzed overhead.

Julian Gutierrez, 3, took a special liking to the Casa Grande High School marching band, getting up from his seat to wiggle around and dance to the beat. His sister, Gabby, 4, also watched from the curb.

Their parents, Cathy Killinger, 34, and Jason Gutierrez, 33, have been coming to the Petaluma Veterans Day Parade since they marched in that same band as teenagers.

“I think it’s important to come out and celebrate our veterans and show our appreciation,” said Killinger.

Many in the crowd were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the post-fire slogans Sonoma Strong or Sonoma Proud, and when first responders passed by, the applause swelled. Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano proved particularly popular as he drove past in a vintage yellow Chevrolet Malibu.

Parade coordinator Steve Kemmerle put out a special invitation to local first responders this year, he said, in thanks for their efforts during the fires that gripped Sonoma County last month. Kemmerle said the turnout was one of the largest he’s seen, though it was too early to tell if Saturday’s crowds will best the 40,000 estimated in attendance last year.

“Veterans Day is always a great way to honor your veterans, and many of the first responders are veterans, so it was a good way to tie it together,” Kemmerle said. “After what happened with the fires, we need something to bring us together, and I would say the parade is a good way of doing it.”

For Jim and Janet Abbott, who live in Petaluma and try to make it out to the parade every year, this Veterans Day took on a new significance, as their 19-year-old son Nicholas is set to come home from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego next week.

“He’s a very patriotic person,” Janet Abbott said of their son’s service. “We can’t give you any other answer, he just wanted to do it. He’s always been very patriotic.”

The Abbots watched the parade from a 4th Street sidewalk, wearing Marine Corps parent T-shirts for the first time.

“Until you’re a Marine, you’re just a recruit, so you’re not supposed to wear the Marine shirts yet,” said Jim Abbott, 53.

They, too, felt the unifying effect of the parade.

“I think people forget about all their grievances when you come together to do things like this,” said Janet Abbott, 52. “Everybody seems to be on the same page today.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or