The brainchild of two regular guys in Saint Louis, Missouri, the first parade held in the United States in honor of Iraq war veterans took place last Saturday.
Huge Turnout for Vets
Tens of thousands of people turned out on this cold winter day at the end of January, waving American flags and cheering as about 600 soldiers, some dressed in their camouflage uniforms, marched through downtown streets.
One of the marchers, 23-year Army veteran Major Rich Radford was moved to tears to see such a turnout as he walked along the parade route with his 12-year-old son, Warren and 8-year-old daughter Aimee.
“It’s not necessarily overdue, it’s just the right thing,”
said Radford, referring to the fact that over a month has already elapsed since the US withdrawal from Iraq, and this parade is the first to take place anywhere in the US.
The onlookers who turned out in such numbers not only clapped, cheered and waved flags. They also came with signs bearing messages like, “Welcome Home,” and “Thanks to our Service Men and Women.”
Many of these battle-hard fighters had to wipe the tears out of their eyes as they took in the warm reception on this cold day that organizers estimate drew upwards of 100,000 people.
Although there were other elements in the parade, including marching bands, politicians and even the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, the crowd was most interested in honoring the men and women who served their country in Iraq until they were called home in December, ending the US’s involvement in the affairs of that country, after almost 9 years.
Grassroots Effort Apeals to All
The parade was the original idea of two St. Louis friends, Craig Schneider and Tom Appelbaum. Neither man served in the military, but realized that there had been no welcome for the returning soldiers other than some hastily organized welcomes at airports and military bases. “Where was the ticker-tape parade of previous wars?” they wondered, and then did something about it.
So the pair went to work, launching a Facebook page, meeting the mayor, mapping out a route, and seeking donations. Appelbaum, a lawyer, and Schneider, a school district technical coordinator, only raised about $35,000, but that didn’t stop their grassroots effort from paying off in spades.
The limiting marketing of the parade included the powerful image of Radford as he was welcomed home by his then 6-year old daughter. As the girl reached up and grabbed onto her father’s hand she said, “I missed you, daddy.” The moment was caught on camera by Radford’s sister and then found its way to T-shirts and poster publicizing the parade.
Everyone Schneider approached loved the idea, including military organizations, city officials and the media.
“It was an idea that nobody said no to,” Schnieider said. “America was ready for this.”