Nov. 11 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump laid a wreath and praised American service members on Monday at the start of the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.
Thousands attended the city's 100th parade to honor American military veterans. The parade is put on each year by the United War Veterans Council. Trump placed the wreath and spoke to the crowd at the Eternal Light Memorial.
"We pledge to always honor our veterans," he said while standing at a podium near his wife, first lady Melania Trump. "You are America's greatest living heroes and we will cherish you now, always and forever.
"This nation is forever in your debt, and we thank you all. You are the reason our hearts swell with pride, our foes tremble with fear, and our nation thrives in freedom."
The president honored fallen American troops from past wars, and added that the United States will never forget the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that initiated the War on Terror.
Organizers said they have invited every president for the last 25 years, but Trump is the first to accept. Sitting presidents traditionally attend a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
"It is truly an honor to come back to New York City to Madison Square Park to be the first president to ever attend America's parade," Trump said.
"As far back as we can remember, no one has ever accepted our invitation," Nick Angione, a member of the organizing veterans council, said. "This year, very honored, very pleased, very excited President Trump has accepted."
Trump's appearance at the event drew a crowd of demonstrators, as well. Some chanted "lock him up" as a nod to the ongoing House impeachment investigation. Others used tape on windows in a building overlooking the park to spell out the words "impeach" and "convict."
Council Chairman Douglas McGowan said earlier Trump's appearance should be viewed as a tribute to military veterans rather than any kind of a political statement.
"This is a day when we put politics aside to focus on honoring our veterans and to recommit ourselves as a community to providing them with the services they have earned, the services they deserve and, for many, the services they were denied," McGowan said.
Some 25,000 participated in Monday's parade, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor, who ended his Democratic presidential campaign in September, said Monday's event should not be politicized.
"[The parade] should not be turned into a spectacle," he said.