NORFOLK, Va. - Hampton Roads' oldest parade returned for its 70th year Saturday morning as the NATO Parade of Nations marched a route from Harbor Park to the Norfolk Federal Courthouse.
Thousands lined the streets to celebrate the long-standing alliance between 31 countries in Europe and North America. The parade comes on the final day of the annual Norfolk NATO Festival.
The city is known as North America's NATO Headquarters and, this year, welcomed a new member. Finland officially joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on April 4.
Capt. Veli-Petteri Valkamo of the Finnish Navy has lived in the area for more than two years, but this was his parade as a NATO member.
“Really emotional to be honest, seeing our flag fly with the other flags," he said when asked how it felt. ”So, of course, it felt really…deep in my heart.”
Finland joined NATO just over a year after its neighbor, Russia, invaded Ukraine. Valkamo sees the partnership as one that can benefit his home country and the other countries in the alliance.
“We have strong defense forces in Finland," he said. "NATO will give us secure guarantees.”
On Granby Street, Thalia Sumner watched her first Parade of Nations; marked by numerous flags, marching bands and flashy floats created by representatives from each country, who are stationed in Hampton Roads as part of Joint Force Command Norfolk.
“We get all these different countries coming to Norfolk, Virginia, of all places and they’re sharing with us their music, their talent," said Sumner.
Valkamo said he expects more of his countrymen and women to arrive in the coming months.
This year, membership came too close to the parade to build a float, but he expects there to be one for Finland when the event returns in 2024.