As a contingent of dignitaries, bands, civic groups and veterans made their way along the downtown parade route Sunday for the annual Memorial Day Parade, some people on the sidelines got their fair share of attention too.

Veterans: Many are easily spotted by the hats they wear bearing military insignia and proclaiming them among the parade-watching veterans.

Brad Burrows was one, making his way toward Broad Street to watch the marchers, wearing a cap that proclaimed his Navy days aboard the U.S.S. Essex.

It feels good to see people turn out to honor those who lost their lives in the war, Burrows said, before sharing some of his own WWII days. He served in the Navy from 1942 to 1946.

His ship was attacked by a kamikaze plane, and endured 12 battles, Burrows said.

Scared?

“Constantly, probably,” he said with a laugh. “You got pretty used to it though because you were really just focused on doing your job.”

A young family saluted Louis Payne, 96, as a hero as they settled into a spot near City Hall to watch the parade. Payne was standing nearby, and his hat declared him another WWII Navy man. He served on the U.S.S. Brennan, providing anti-submarine and anti-aircraft surveillance.

Before he joined the Navy, Payne worked at a Bridgeport plant that made submarine gauges, he said, a fact he found somewhat ironic.

Aboard the U.S.S. Brennan, his job was to watch. From a crow’s nest some 60 to 70 feet in the air, men stood for hours scanning the waters for lights or boats. Sometimes, when the Navy ship would roll, that crow’s nest with its military men would lean precariously close to the water, “hanging over the ocean,” Payne recalled.

Memorable, of course, but he said one of his most memorable experiences was one night when he was in his bunk and the all-hands-on-deck call sounded.

“I had to go out there in my underwear,” he said with a chuckle.

There were perhaps a couple of hundred people gathered along the parade route for Milford’s Memorial Day Parade, a fairly light turnout by Milford standards. There were about a dozen military people along the route, and more marching in the parade.

Larry Wydan, a Vietnam veteran, was among the attendees, military hat on his head. He lives in Milford, and while he finds the salute to the people who gave their lives for their country impressive, he said he would have liked to see a bigger turnout.

Herb Portnoy wore his hat too. He served during Korea as a military officer at a stockade in Germany. As he watched the parade pass by Sunday, he commented on how exhilarating it is to see people gather to express their gratitude toward the people who served their country.

Frank Fettes also wore his military hat, marking him as a Navy man. Fettes served from 1964 to 1968. He said that especially on days like Memorial Day in the midst of a parade, the hat does indeed garner respect and words of gratitude.

The hat does something else, too. It lets veterans identify each other quickly as brothers and sisters.

“It doesn’t matter what branch of the service you were in, there’s a special connection,” he said.