Article by: Kelly Smith

The Twin Cities Heroes Parade is one of a dozen in the U.S.   

After all the emotions Derek Goodridge and his family have endured since doctors amputated the Marine's right arm, Saturday finally brought happy tears.

Together, the 24-year-old, his parents and several family members walked Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis in Saturday's Twin Cities Heroes Parade -- tearing up from the hugs, handshakes and the sight of a couple of hundred strangers showing support. It was the first parade he's been a part of since he was injured in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan more than a year ago.

"It's more of a happy emotional," Goodridge said, after hugging a stranger who lost her brother in military service. She gave Goodridge his bracelet, which read, "Always hope."

It was also a first for Minnesota, one of about a dozen special "welcome home" parades across the nation specifically honoring post-9/11 veterans. Not on Memorial Day. Not during a city festival. Just a mid-summer special day set aside to say thanks.

That's what Ericka Palmer wanted when she planned the event. Palmer, 27, of Minneapolis didn't know any military service members besides her father, who had served in the Army decades ago. But when she saw images of a similar parade in St. Louis, Mo., last January, she was so moved she decided Minneapolis needed one, too.

"It's the first time we've singled out service from the last 10 years," she said. "I was very compelled that ordinary people can do something amazing without being asked."

Proceeds from the parade will go to the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, a nonprofit that offers veteran services, especially those who are homeless.

The parade, which was pushed back from April so members of the famed Red Bull Division could join after returning in May, was a small half-hour parade with about 30 groups. But, Palmer said, "whether there was 50 people in the crowds or 500, we're doing what is right by our veterans."

Added U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.: "This is a chance to show Minnesota and the country we support our veterans."

It was difficult, organizers said, to get military members like AJ Anderson to show up. Anderson, 31, of North St. Paul, admitted he was apprehensive at first.

"We don't ask for kudos for what we do," he said. "For us, it's our job."

But with his mom, grandma and extended family by his side, the Iraq veteran marched down Nicollet Mall, moved to tears by the cheering, flag-waving supporters honoring him and his fellow Marines who didn't make it back.

"It kind of stirred up a lot of memories of my friends, it was very emotional for me," he said.

Mike MacDonald knows the power of a simple show of appreciation. The longtime organizer of Minneapolis' St. Patrick's Day parade helped with Saturday's parade and is a Vietnam War vet.

"I remember all too well how we were treated when we came back," he said. "We just want these guys to know we're thankful ... to make sure veterans aren't treated the same."

That gratitude was well conveyed to Goodridge and his family as they carried large U.S. flags and signs sharing his story. It ended up being much more than a parade for the Twin Cities family, but "therapy" after all they've withstood.

"It's a little closure," his mother, Cathy Lake, said, tearing up. "He hugged some lady and she didn't want to let go. He lost an arm, but people are saying thank you."