Sometime last year, I signed up to march in the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC, as part of the Desert Storm timeline in the parade.
This year, we have a bunch of big anniversaries:
- 911 – 15 years
- Desert Storm – 25 years
- World War II – 75 years
The parade was done in a timeline form, starting with the Revolutionary War and moving up through all the wars we’ve had people serve in. The Desert Storm portion was sponsored by the Desert Storm Memorial.
Commercial interruption here: The Desert Storm Memorial is looking for donations: http://www.nationaldesertstormwarmemorial.org/
The uniform was khaki pants or chocolate chip pants and a brown t-shirt that had a big 25 on the back. The optional hat was the boonie one that we wore over in the war. I opted for the khaki pants because I already had them; most of the people had to go out and buy the chocolate chip pants and the hat. I didn’t want to spend money on something I was going to wear once.
About three days before the parade, our cold rainy spring in DC ended, and summer marched in, all hot and bothered. Humidity shot up, and we were getting 80-90 degrees.
My day on Memorial Day started at about 8 AM. I was assigned to the first group in formation, with about 100 people, and we hopped the Metro to go downtown. We took over the first two cars, so I’m not sure what the other passengers thought!
Though one of the men commented that it was probably the safest car on the train. If anything happened, 50 people would be all over it in a heartbeat.
Our first staging area was by near where would start, by Constitution Avenue. A tent had been set up nearby with water, and we needed a lot of it! We were going to be out there until the parade started at 2:00, and it got hotter and hotter.
Suppose there’s a sense of irony in that …
So it was a lot of hurry up and wait. We watched a WWI truck (for the WWI memorial) stop by, manned by a Navy guy who put it together with parts from all over the world. There were also bands in some pretty cool looking uniforms (hardly the ugly mustard yellow from my high school days), though they had to be even hotter than us. At least we had short sleeves!
At 2:00, we lined up out by the Smithsonian castle and waited for another hour—but at least we had a building with real bathrooms in and not porta potties.
At 3:00 thereabouts, we were a go. I was in the first group, the last one in line, on the right side. Most of the photos were taken of the left side. We marched down the street connecting to Constitution, past two bands, who collectively turned and watched us. That was kind of weird, because we were all in the same parade.
We pivoted at the corner and the viewing stands were right there. Packed with people. Cheering for us.
We were stiff and formal at that point. I think everyone was screaming “Don’t screw up!”
And it was overwhelming. I’d worried about going to the bathroom while I was out there, and I forgot it for a while.
We marched until we came to a stop. It was like a traffic jam—you can’t see what’s going up ahead to know what’s going on. Later we found out someone in a group ahead of us had a heart attack.
But after we got moving again, things changed a bit. It was like suddenly we were freer. A couple of the men broke away from the group and ran to the sidelines to shake the hands of veterans watching. A spotter behind me identified the veterans by hats or t-shirts.
A woman in an Air Force uniform had five men launch for her; I think she was a little dazed at it all. Two of the women ran out giving high fives to the crowds.
And the crowds loved it all.
All the way down Constitution, people were lined up, calling out to us, and waving. We finally reached the end of the route and turned off. The fire department had a hose aimed into the air so the spray would fall down on the marchers.
Better still, there was a stand of porta potties, and a bunch of made a beeline for them. After that, the Kuwaitis asked us all to sign a flag so they could take it home. I signed it with my name and my unit.
Then it was time to go home. By the time I got back, it was nearly 6:00.
There was an immediate camaraderie among us, though I only knew people from when I went on the reunion cruise last year. But we all had the same shared experience.
This is a photo of the women participating in the parade, taken by one of the other veterans. I’m standing behind the service dog.
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And I have a new contemporary fantasy short story out on Amazon: