Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All That's Missing Is The Parade

I guess you could say that patriotism survives but the glory is gone. When I was a kid over half a century back I used to love going to parades, and there were plenty of them. Every patriotic holiday there was a parade. My father or my grandfather would take me downtown and for block after block people would line both sides of the street, flags everywhere!

When you're three or four years old time passes slowly. We always arrived early to assure getting a good place by the curb so I could watch the parade without somebody having to hold me up. Then suddenly you became aware of drums beating in the distance! The parade was on its way. It wasn't made up of the high school drum and bugle corps, no squads of cheerleaders doing fancy tricks with twirling batons. These were real soldiers and sailors carrying real guns marching up the street, real military bands, rows of olive drab Jeeps. Marching groups of men in the Coast Guard, the National Guard, and units of World War II veterans, even units of proud old men who'd served in World War I.

Then there were the convertibles driving slowly down the street carryng the few remaining veterans of the Spanish-American War, and when I was real little, a veteran or two of the Civil War. Everybody was white. Whatever blacks that served back then were pretty much relegated to non-combat duty. They didn't march in parades. After I moved south from Massachusettes to Florida one southerner summed it up "It's glorious to die in defense of your country. We don't want to give no n*****s any glory!"

Vietnam changed a lot of things. The patriotism aspect of defending the United States this time around turned out to be a big lie. The military wasn't just a white man's army any longer. The country itself was changing, and the way we looked at the military had changed. Now we have public ceremonies in the park to honor our war dead and the veterans who survived, a speech by the mayor, the high school drum and bugle corps plays some music, we eat hot dogs and carry little flags, and those two cute little girls in red dresses will never know the excitement of watching a parade. But their grandmothers probably never knew that excitement either. They wouldn't have been allowed to live in the neighborhood.

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