Lisa Bixler carried her son's boots looped over her shoulder.
Brenda Novak carried a large photo of her son.
Barb Gassen carried a red, white and blue remembrance ribbon in her son's honor.
The things they carried in Milwaukee's Veterans Day Parade honored the memory of young lives lost on a distant battlefield.
The three mothers, all members of Being There-Reaching Out, walked Saturday with a red, white and blue float adorned with golden paper stars. On each star was a name, a life.
"As long as we talk about our veterans, they live," said Bixler, whose 21-year-old son Evan was killed in Iraq on Christmas Eve 2006.
As the last American troops leave Iraq in the next few weeks, Bixler said the end of the war in which her son died is bittersweet.
"For all of us, the war will never be over," said Bixler, of Racine, referring to the families of the fallen. "It so drastically changes the dynamics of our lives."
Brenda Novak, whose 21-year-old son Shaun was killed in Iraq in 2006, is happy and relieved to see the war's end so near.
"It's time the war is over. We've done what we possibly can," said Novak, of Two Rivers. "It's time to bring them home."
The last troops are to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, almost nine years after the war started.
As roughly 50 family members and friends of Wisconsinites who died in military uniform walked next to the float along the parade route, spectators clapped and shouted "Thank you!"
This is the fifth year Being There-Reaching Out has participated in Milwaukee's Veterans Day Parade. The organization includes Wisconsin families and friends of those who died in military uniform. Some of the families lost loved ones in Afghanistan, some to suicide or accidents, and some in Iraq.
For Cathy Scott, the farewell seemed like it was yesterday.
She said goodbye to her son Josh at Fort Bragg. He was heading to Iraq. She was an Army mom who beamed as her son, a helicopter pilot, hugged her one last time.
"I didn't think I'd never see him again. I was just glad he was doing something he wanted to do," said Scott, of Madison.
Joshua Michael Scott's helicopter was shot down in 2005.
She decided to participate in Milwaukee's Veterans Day Parade with Being There-Reaching Out for the first time on Saturday - the seventh anniversary of the last time she saw her son - "because I could finally handle it."
"When Josh signed up for the Army, I didn't want him to, but that was his passion. Josh said, 'Mom, I'm doing what I believe in, so you don't have to worry about bombs going off at home,' " she said.
Scott finds comfort in spending time with other members of Being There-Reaching Out because of the friendships formed from tragedy. The group organizes an annual convention and other outings like the Veterans Day Parade.
"It's a group that nobody wants to belong to, but you're glad it's there," said Scott. "The important thing is that they're remembered. With parades like this, they won't be forgotten."
Most Being There-Reaching Out members carried American flags; some wore pictures of their loved ones on T-shirts and buttons and carried signs with their photos. Spectators grew quiet as they read the signs, saw the faces and realized the sacrifice. Many clapped and a few veterans stood and saluted as the families passed.
"It's very heartwarming," said Lisa Bixler. "You see parents talking to their children with tears in their eyes."
The float was purchased with funds donated to the nonprofit group. After the parade, Being There-Reaching Out members stopped at the Safe House restaurant, where a wall of photos of the fallen is displayed. More names were unveiled this year of Wisconsin military members who died since last Veterans Day.
Among them was Jacob Gassen, 21, an Army medic from Beaver Dam killed in Afghanistan Nov. 29. This was the first year his parents, Greg and Barb Gassen, walked in the parade. Barb wore her son's fleece uniform coat and camouflage hat.
"Last year, he was still alive at this time. There's only one word to describe it - awful," said his father.
Wearing a black cap with pins of his son's unit, 101st Airborne, Greg talked with pride about his son's compassion and desire to help people, his musical gifts and how much he loved being a medic.
"I've got to be able to grieve his death but also honor his life," Greg said.