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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2007

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By Marc Leepson
“A great day for Vietnam veterans,” I heard someone say during the height of the huge parade along Constitution Avenue that VVA sponsored on Saturday, November 10, in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was a great day, too, for VVA, for putting on a memorable and meaningful event in the Nation’s Capital.

Some ten thousand Vietnam veterans, many of them VVA members, came to Washington from across the nation to join the parade. They had plenty of company from four marching bands, fifteen floats, contingents of Vietnam veterans from Australia, Canada, and South Korea, some 600 former ARVN, along with a large number of other veterans’ groups and unit associations. The parade was an at-times exuberant, and at other times sober, march to remember those who perished in the Vietnam War, as well as those who served and came home to an American society that turned its collective back on Vietnam veterans.

“We all know there were no parades for Vietnam veterans when we came home,” VVA President John Rowan said. “That situation has changed. This parade is the ‘welcome home’ that far too many of the nine million-plus men and women who served on active duty during this era never had. Today is a day when we celebrate our homecoming and offer our respect and blessings for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War.”

Following a breakfast sponsored by Commerce Bank and inspiring opening ceremonies, the parade stepped off at 11:15 from the National Mall at 7th Street, led by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Motorcycle Unit, which rolled down Constitution Avenue slowly in vee formation. Then came a flotilla of motorcyclists under the Rolling Thunder Banner, and the marchers, led by the VVA float featuring the national officers, Board of Directors, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund board. Also on board: parade grand marshal Jan Scruggs, the former infantryman who conceived of The Wall and led the effort to have it built.

The marchers, motorcyclists, floats, and assorted motorized vehicles—including Vietnam War-era Jeeps and deuce-and-a-halfs, Humvees, and the smartly decked-out Chattanooga, Tennessee, Chapter 203 bus—made their way west along Constitution Avenue on a cool, cloudy day. They soaked in cheers and “welcome homes” shouted by well-wishers who lined the wide boulevard and filled the bleachers next to the reviewing stand in front of the IRS Building between 11th and 12th Streets.

The two-and-a-half hour parade ended at 18th Street, and many veterans went on to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (where a reading of the names had been going on since Wednesday) and the World War II Memorial. Many attended the VVA-sponsored concert at the Sylvan Theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The concert, which went on till late afternoon, featured the Kingston Trio, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, and the Ding-a-Lings and Golddiggers from the old Dean Martin TV Show.

VVA members from as far away as Alaska came to Washington for the parade and associated Veterans Day events that weekend. More than two dozen VVA members made the trek from Alaska; more than a hundred Vietnam veterans came east from the Navajo nation in New Mexico. “It’s a parade I didn’t get 37 years ago,” said VVA member Dave Neudecker of Chapter 55 from Newark, Ohio. He joined fellow Double Nickel chapter members on the seven-hour trip to Washington and proudly drove down Constitution Avenue in a World War II-era Jeep that belongs to the chapter.

There were large numbers of VVA members marching from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia, and big groups from Chapter 392 in Oregon City, Oregon, and from Liberty Bell Chapter 266 in Philadelphia and 542 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They joined VVA chapter contingents from Minneapolis, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

From outside VVA came representatives of many other organizations, including the Gold Star Mothers of America, the Gold Stars Wives, the Blue Star Mothers, Sons and Daughters in Touch, the Amerasian Family Association, Veterans Against Drugs, the U.S. Air Force Vietnam Security Police Association, Khe Sahn Veterans, the 101st Airborne and 173rd Airborne Division Associations, other VSOs, and several unions, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the United Auto Workers. U-Haul International, a sponsor of the parade, provided a flotilla of vehicles. The Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks, another sponsor, also had a big presence.

The Washington Post ran a photo of the Chapter 203 bus on the front page of its Sunday editions; inside was a long article by reporter Michael Ruane that caught the flavor of the parade very well. “Thousands of graying Vietnam veterans, many clad in jungle boots and old fatigues, marched down Constitution Avenue yesterday,” Ruane wrote. “The men and women who served in the war paraded to the rousing music of Sousa and the calls of ‘Thank you!’ and ‘Welcome home!’ and ‘Hoo-Ah!” from the crowds lining the sidewalk.

“They came from all across the country and from all lines of work. And they carried flags and banners or wore jackets and t-shirts proclaiming where and when they had served.” Along the way, “the marchers waved to the crowds, smoked cigars, laughed, hugged, and more than three decades after the war, wept over the memory of those named on the The Wall.”

The next day, Sunday, November 11, dawned bright and sunny. That afternoon many VVA members attended the 25th anniversary re-dedication of The Wall, at which former Secretary of State Colin Powell was the Keynote speaker.

 

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