More cities consider parades for Iraq War veterans

Saturday, February 4, 2012 | 5:34 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS  — A St. Louis parade welcoming home Iraq War and other post-Sept. 11 veterans was such a hit that at least 10 other cities around the country are considering similar celebrations.

Organizers of the parade that drew an estimated 100,000 observers and 20,000 participants in St. Louis on Jan. 28 said Friday that they have been approached by people from Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Seattle, Tucson, Ariz., Nashville, Tenn., Greensboro, N.C., and Clinton, Iowa.

"The revolution for America to rally in support of our troops has just begun," said Tom Appelbaum, who along with his friend, Craig Schneider, came up with the idea for the St. Louis parade and pulled it off within a month.

The St. Louis parade was the first major event honoring post-Sept. 11 veterans since the war in Iraq ended in December. Now, organizers in other cities are tapping into their expertise.

Alan Toppel, a 79-year-old retired businessman from Tucson, was in St. Louis on Friday to gather information on organizing a similar parade.

"When I saw that this parade was done, and the magnitude of the parade, I was thinking that this is something we can do in Tucson," he said. "This is something we need to do in Tucson."

Toppel said he has received a positive response from civic leaders. He will meet with city officials next week and is moving toward the goal of hosting a parade by the end of March.

The St. Louis parade drew a festive and often emotional crowd. Fire truck aerial ladders hoisted huge American flags over the parade route. Marching bands played "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful." The Budweiser Clydesdales clopped along the route.

The loudest cheers, though, were for the troops themselves, many marching in camouflage. Some had tears in their eyes as well-wishers reached out to shake hands or give them hugs.

Schneider and Appelbaum said the idea began in December with a simple conversation between the two of them about why there were no big celebrations to mark the end of the Iraq War. So they sought donations, launched a Facebook page, met with the mayor and mapped a route. The grass-roots effort cost less than $40,000.

Some questioned if a parade was even appropriate given the ongoing war against terrorism and the continued deployment of 91,000 troops in Afghanistan. Many of the Iraq War veterans interviewed at the St. Louis parade conceded they might be redeployed to Afghanistan.

Still, the response to the parade was overwhelming in St. Louis, and the response from around the nation has been the same, said Army Maj. Rick Radford, a parade participant now volunteering with the U.S. Welcome Home Foundation. The foundation, formed by the St. Louis organizers, encourages more parades and seeks funding to help veterans connect with resources as they return home.

Radford said he hopes to see even more cities get involved.

"If we can pull off a parade in 30 days, I believe every city should be able to honor our veterans with a parade," Radford said.


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