Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Kicks Off

Millions of spectators turned out for the 79th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, as its floats and giant balloons made their way through the streets of New York City.

Before the event began, fears of fierce wind, rain showers and snowstorms had police and city officials considering grounding the giant balloons to avoid accidents.

New York police commissioner Ray Kelly said much attention was being paid to each balloon.

"We're very much concerned about it and I think it's going to be a safe and very peaceful day," Kelly said.

Weather has bungled balloons in the past, most notably in 1997, when heavy winds sent The Cat in the Hat balloon plowing into a lamppost that toppled onto four people. One woman suffered permanent brain damage.

Since then, Macy's has implemented improved training for the approximately 1,700 people who help handle and direct the massive balloons.

The parade, which began in 1924, is expected to draw 2.5 million spectators and 44 million television viewers, according to the retailer.

Shoulders and stepladders

Shoulders and stepladders provided viewing perches for spectators.

"This is wonderful. It's part of New York," 85-year-old Ron Kahn told The Associated Press from atop a ladder.

Temperatures were in the low 40s, with only a sprinkle of rain.

Sayra Hernandez watched from a side street with her son, Lucas, 4, sitting on her shoulders, AP reported.

"It seems better on TV, maybe more glamorous, not this hectic," Hernandez, 30, told AP. "But the smile on my kid's face is priceless."

"Look at the piggy, Lucas!" she said gesturing as a balloon floated past.

"Piggy!" Lucas squealed gleefully.

This year's big balloons include Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer, the parade's first Latina balloon character, and Scooby-Doo, as well as Barney, Garfield, Big Bird and Charlie Brown.

The balloons shared top billing with 10 marching bands, 27 floats and performers such as LeAnn Rimes, Aaron Neville and Kristin Chenoweth.

Deployed U.S. troops give thanks

Far away in Iraq, most of the more than 140,000 deployed U.S. troops got a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and all the trimmings.

American troops were visited in Baghdad by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Huddling together in the cold, U.S. Marines of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion spoke Thursday about missing family and friends back home for Thanksgiving.

"Serving my country is important but losing friends makes me more thankful for what I have and for what I used to take for granted," said Cpl. Brian Zwart, 20, of Fruitport, Michigan.