MUST READ: 'Real hero' Sullenberger leads 2010 Rose Parade

PASADENA, Calif. -- After a run of celebrity grand marshals, a real American hero led the Rose Parade on Friday.

Onlookers stood and cheered as Capt. Chesley B. ''Sully'' Sullenberger III rode down Colorado Boulevard in a vintage 1928 Pierce Arrow with his wife, Lorrie, and two daughters as part of the annual armada of flower-draped floats, marching bands and prancing horses.

Sullenberger said he did not hesitate when asked to serve as grand marshal because his family has watched the parade when he was growing up in Texas.

''It's really an American institution, a celebration of American values,'' he said after the parade. ''I think people see those in me, and I'm glad.''

Parade-goer Hilda Roy held a hand-painted, fluorescent sign that read, ''We (heart) you Sully!'' She waved and screamed the name of the man who landed a stricken jetliner on New York's Hudson River and was thrilled when Sullenberger waved back.

''We come every year, but when we found out he was grand marshal, we were really excited,'' Roy, 48, said. ''He's a real hero, not just a celebrity, and a real person, too.''

The 121st Rose Parade had something for everyone.

Under signature sunny Southern California skies, onlookers gasped when the cannons of Honda's three-masted, sailing ship float boomed and shot sparklers and smoke rings toward the bleachers.

A float celebrating Mexico's bicentennial featured Mexico City's landmark Angel of Independence and an intricate flower Aztec calendar, as well as dancers costumed in traditional regional dress.

A swarm of children wearing butterfly wings while cruising on inline skates also got a round of applause as they twirled in front of a float depicting the city of Shanghai.

The Kansai Honor Band from Japan rallied the crowd with ''Thriller'' dance moves and a color guard sporting teased hair and kimonos.