A ticker-tape parade for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants on Tuesday has helped spark a growing national debate over how veterans coming back from the Iraq War should be honored.
“Getting Super Bowl-champ football players a parade in their hometowns is never an issue. But Iraq War veterans?” Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote in a blog post this week. “For some reason, they’re running into all kinds of resistance.”
“We simply don't think a national-level parade is appropriate while we continue to have America's sons and daughters in harm's way,” said Col. David Lapan, spokesman for Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“While we are very appreciative of the offer to host such a parade to recognize the significant accomplishments of those who have served in Iraq, Gen. Dempsey has expressed the view that he doesn't think it is appropriate while we still have forces engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan,” he said.
But a parade for veterans held two weeks ago in St. Louis, which drew tens of thousands of people, has launched a movement for more parades across the country.
Craig Schneider and Tom Appelbaum, two St. Louis men who had not served in the military, organized the St. Louis parade after posting the idea on a Facebook group and growing support there.
Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), who represents St. Louis and attended the parade, called it “a stunning display of patriotism and gratitude for our returning troops from Iraq.
“To witness thousands of people along the parade route embrace these soldiers, saying ‘thank you, welcome home’ was truly inspirational,” he said.
Appelbaum said that since the parade, he’s received inquiries from citizens and officials in 20 cities across the country, from Tucson to Philadelphia to San Antonio, to hold parades of their own. He thinks New York should also hold one.
“There’s a huge significance to the fact that so many cities are stepping up to do something right now,” Appelbaum said in a phone interview.
“I’m perfectly happy to see this thing go national, and every other city but New York have a parade,” he said. “But eventually New York’s going to have to have their parade. They’re going to have to change their minds.”
Rieckhoff's group has launched an online petition on its website for a ticker-tape parade, which more than 20,000 people have signed.
Pentagon spokesman Doug Wilson said the Defense Department is not opposed to cities holding their own parades like St. Louis did, but officials don’t feel there should be a national-level parade.
That’s the significance a parade in New York would take on, where parades have been held for more than a century in the world-famous “Canyon of Heroes.”
Wilson said that when a ticker-tape parade was held in New York for veterans of the first Gulf War, there was no other armed conflict occurring.
Still, some city officials are pushing for New York to move forward with a ticker-tape celebration for veterans. Christine Quinn, New York’s City Council speaker and a potential candidate for mayor in 2013, said on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show that the city should hold a parade if that’s what veterans want.
She said that she felt “badly” for Bloomberg, who is agreeing to a decision made by top military leaders.
“That position on the part of the Pentagon or the Department of Defense puts mayors in a tough spot, because do you disregard what the federal government has said to you?” Quinn said. “I really think what needs to happen is the federal government or the Pentagon needs to change their position and make it OK for cities if they want to do this to do this.”
Stu Loeser, a Bloomberg spokesman, said the city “asked the military’s top leaders for guidance, and when it comes to what’s best for our troops we will follow their lead.”
On Monday, the White House announced plans to hold a dinner for Iraq War veterans. The dinner, which will be at the end of the month, will host 200 people and have veterans from every state, rank and service, said Wilson.
Wilson emphasized that the dinner was unconnected to the debate over holding a parade. “This is not a matter of a dinner instead of a parade,” he said.
“Senior military leaders here support a national-level parade at the appropriate time, and they feel the appropriate time will be when troops have returned from Afghanistan,” he said.
Appelbaum said the momentum that’s building for hosting veterans parades shows there’s no reason not to have one now as well as when the war in Afghanistan is over.
“We should be coming up with reasons to have parades for our veterans,” he said, “not coming up with excuses not to have them.”