SAN BENITO — “We thank you for your service to the flag waving high,” said the group of girls as they waved white pom-poms in the cold air.

The weather couldn’t stop this group of girls or anyone else from marching in the city of San Benito Community Parade and Tribute Ceremony.

About 200 people — including veterans, school groups and concerned citizens — gathered outside San Benito City Hall yesterday morning to begin the annual salute to veterans.

The weather might have turned some away, but it seemed to energize those who attended the event, starting with the traditional parade down Sam Houston Boulevard.

“The veterans do so much for us,” said Laila Lopez, 10, a member of La Folklorico La Encantada Team. She was one of 12 girls wearing colorful mariachi dresses.

“We do what we love and we love what we do,” she said.

Veterans appreciated the gesture.

“It’s something we haven’t seen,” said Perfecto Escobedo, 71, who served in the Army in Vietnam.

He referred to previous years when people didn’t support the Vietnam War or the military in general. The parade, which included school choirs and the Riverside Middle School band, impressed him.

“I think it’s a sign of the times,” he said. “People are recognizing the veterans.”

As everyone gathered to march down Sam Houston Boulevard to the San Benito Veterans War Memorial, two women stood in front of the veterans with a white sign.

“Juan G. Garza Jr.,” it said in red letters along with the date of his death in 2003

“It’s been 16 years,” said Mary Ann Bucher, one of the women holding the sign. Garza was her son.

Marine Corps Pfc. Juan G. Garza Jr., 20, of San Benito, died April 8, 2003. He was killed in combat in the Iraq War.

“He was the first in the Valley to die in the war,” she said. “He had a big smile.”

She also appreciated the parade honoring her son and other veterans.

“I feel great,” she said. “It’s awesome.”

Some veterans are regulars at the yearly event.

“I always try to make it every year,” said Juan Galarza, 69, who served in the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam.

“It’s just to show my support to fellow veterans in the community and the country,” he said.

As the procession moved up the street, the La Paloma Gold Stars shook gold pom-poms, the La Encantada girls twirled their colorful dresses to mariachi music, and the Riverside Middle School band played America the Beautiful.

Upon arrival at the San Benito Veterans War Memorial, numerous people addressed the crowd.

“I want to recognize those of you who have served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” said Mayor Benjamin Gomez.

“You have passed the torch of liberty from one generation to the next, to a new generation of American veterans who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East,” he said.

Mindy Caballero spoke about her experience in the Navy. Military veterans sometimes leave the service facing emotional and physical challenges, she said, and it’s important that people support them in those challenges.