A big parade

Several major US newspapers have carried stories recently reporting that planning is underway for a large military parade. It is reported to have started with an idea of the President, who mentioned large military parades in campaign speeches prior to his election. He has had many words of high praise for this past Summer’s Bastille Day Parade which he observed while on a trip to France. One military official reported that the President made his request this way: “I want a parade like the one in France.”

No date for the parade has been announced. It is reported that the President favors Memorial Day or the 4th of July. Some within the Pentagon have suggested that November 11, which will be the 100th anniversary of World War I and Veterans Day would be a more suitable date. I haven’t heard what role the President imagines for himself in the parade, whether he would be in the parade as a Grand Marshall or view it from a reviewing stand.

The President is just a few years older than I. Surely he can remember how large-scale military parades have been associated with totalitarian regimes for many years. Displays of military hardware bring to mind the Soviet Union’s Red Square celebrations. They were often covered by the press in my youth as far more show than substance. It doesn’t take much imagination to make a connection between the President who tweeted that his nuclear button was bigger than the one of Kim Jong Un an the military parades in which Kim showed off his Taepodong misses.

I have no idea whether or not a large scale military parade is a good idea. I suspect that it is a pretty expensive endeavor and might result in military resources being moved away from the places they are most needed. I don’t know what it costs to transport Abrams Tanks from their training and deployment areas, but they’re pretty heavy. I’m not sure how much damage the big hardware causes to city streets, but it might be worth considering in the planning.

I have seen some pretty grand military parades in my day and I’m skeptical that they can be topped, even with the endorsement of the world’s most powerful national leader and what is unquestionably the world’s most powerful military. Let me tell you about one of those parades.

It was a gray Memorial Day in a town of less than 2,000 people in Montana. It is hard to judge the size of the crowd and my memory is a bit foggy, but I suspect that there were less than 500 people lining Main Street. The parade was led by four veterans, two who had served in World War II and Two who had served in World War I. The WWI vets were getting up in age and they had lost some of their former military precision. They kept getting out of step with the others and even a rank of four couldn’t keep a straight line. The flags drooped a couple of times and were almost never held at the same angle as they were carried down the street. By the time the leaders of the parade had traveled two blocks down Main Street, turned the corner at the post office and walked another half block to the Legion Hall they were winded and very grateful that they could deposit their flags in standards and give them a grave salute. The marchers were followed by three or four convertibles of varying ages carrying other World War II veterans. Ours was a small town and there weren’t many convertibles available. Some of the vets didn’t fit into their uniforms very well and some uniforms weren’t buttoned all the way. Ties were crooked and hats slipped to strange angles. After the cars was a half dozen rows of soldiers and sailors in a variety of uniforms and parts of uniforms. Some were carrying rifles, others marched alongside. They weren’t very practiced in parade drill and got spread out quite a bit in the 2 1/2 block march. That group was followed by the high school band, who were a bit more practiced in marching, but were far from a precise group. They marched to a drum cadence for a half block or so and then played the high school fight song complete with shouted “Rah, rah, rah for Sweetgrass High!” It might have been the only song the whole band had memorized. The would later play the Star Spangled Banner while standing still in front of the Legion hall. Carrying up the rear in the parade were the towns fire trucks followed by a lone police car, all with lights flashing.

I know it sounds like I’m making fund of the parade, but you had to have been there to understand our little display. We knew the names of every person in that parade. We knew many of their stories. We understood that the story of our country was that it had been defended by generations of everyday people. The guy who took your money at the bowling alley had served on a navy ship during the war. The man at the elevator had fought in the trenches and survived to tell about it. Among the farmers and ranchers were people who had fought in distant islands in the Pacific and lonely fields in Europe and arid deserts in North Africa.

Our defense had not come from superior technology or practiced parade skills, but from ordinary people who were willing to risk everything for the people and principles they loved. We who watched the parade clapped for them, but we knew that their honor came from deep inside and wasn’t dependent upon display or ceremony. It was as it has always been, the strength of our nation is our people, who are resourceful, creative, dedicated, loyal and self-sacrificing.

I love a parade, and the President certainly has the authority to order one. For the sake of awe and to stir my patriotic fervor, however, nothing is more inspirational than the real men and women who have been there and served and who have come home to work in our community every day. Their stories are worth telling.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!