CLEVELAND -- Thousands packed downtown Cleveland Monday for the opening of Marine Week activities.

The Quantico Marine Band performed on Public Square while a helicopter flyover added to the kickoff ceremonies of Marine Week Cleveland.

Lt. Gen. Steven A. Hummer declared an official start to the week long event, saying, "it is our opporunity to bring the Corps to her people, to connect with communities across the country and thank Americans for their unwavering support."

Photos: Cleveland Marine Week

"This is so cool, awesome," said 9-year-old Shane Bulich, after he crawled to the top of a Light Armored Vehicle, one of the many pieces of Marine hardware and armament parked on Public Square, near Voinivich Park, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Many former Marines came to renew acquaintances with the Corps and with some of the 750 current Marines who are part of Marine Week Cleveland.

"That's a long time ago," said Walter Askew, of Cleveland, who joined the Marine Corps in the 1970's.

"We used to lay all the lines so the guys could talk behind the lines to the front of the lines," Askew remembered, while surveying some of the hardware brought in to Public Square.

"Yep, it brings back memories."

Staff Sgt. David Mike Malone, who served from 1973 to 1991, said his love for the Marine Corps never left him, even 20 years after his retirement.

"I wanted to go back in and kick some butts but they told me I was a little too old," Malone, of Cleveland, said witha smile."I told them don't let that stop a gun, because I got to do what I got to do for the Corps."

"I'm a Marine and always will be one," Malone told WKYC."And I'm still serving as of right now. Never gonna give up!"

John Polifko of Parma brought his entire family to the first day of Marine Week. Polifko, who finally retired in 1984, served 31 years in the Corps, attaining the rank of Sergeant Major.

His daughter Jodi is married to active duty Navy Corpsman, HM1 Mark Moriarity. They and their two young sons accompanied the family downtown.

"My husband Mark had to have the guts to ask my father the Sergeant Major to marry me," Jodi Moriarity joked. "Nobody else would dare ask that of the Sergeant Major."

John Polifko's wife Jean, who helped guide her husband's wheelchair through the Marine Week displays at Voinovich Park, said there was a simple reason the entire family had to be there today.

"We're just a Marine family. We love the Marines, we believe in the Marines. We believe in our country."

A powerfully moving part of Marine Week is the traveling memorial wall on display at Voinovich Park. Each day at 1 p.m., there is a ceremonial wreath laying. Monday, the honor fell to Paula Kancler of Brecksville, whose son, Marine Sgt. Dennis Kancler, died in Afghanistan last year.

"Dennis loved being a Marine," Paula Kancler said."He loved it. As a mom you want you child to grow up and find a career that he can thrive in. And he did."