WASHINGTON - And you thought the war was over!
Not only have organizers of the National Victory Celebration fought nearly every corner of bureaucracy to pull off tomorrow's gold-plated extravaganza to honor the Desert Storm troops, but they have also been engaging in light combat with their New York neighbors whose own parade is scheduled for two days later.
"They have accountants marching in their parade!" quips Harry N. Walters, president of the foundation set up to run Washington's homecoming festivities and a former administrator of veterans affairs.
The Washington parade, he says, is strictly a military affair - "to celebrate those who came home well and memorialize those who didn't."
Led by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, about 8,800 troops - including the 1st U.S. Army from Fort Meade and the 776th Airbase Wing and 459th Military Airlift Wing from Andrews Air Force Base - will march down Constitution Avenue and across Arlington Memorial Bridge. Joining them will be the 1st U.S. Army Band from Fort Meade and 11 other military bands, a USO float featuring boxing champ Tommy Hearns and Miss U.S.A., and 31 war machines such as M-1 tanks, Humvees, rocket launchers and the famed Patriot missile. More than 80 warplanes will fly by, 500 feet above the crowd, at various intervals.
The two-mile march - the centerpiece of the day of festivities moved up from July 4th to accommodate Congress, which would be in recess then ` is being touted as the largest military victory parade since World War II. Along with a sprinkling of anti-war protesters, it's expected to draw anywhere from 600,000 to 1.5 million spectators.
"New York can have their parade," says Mr. Walters, president and CEO of Great Lakes Carbon Corp. "They have a parade at the drop of a hat. We're going to have the best parade!"
Organizers of New York's Operation Welcome Home have tossed back a few of their own rockets, countering that no one can shower heroes with affection and enthusiasm - and paper -like New York. With its 12,000 Desert Storm veterans (also led by General Schwarzkopf), 500 marching units, 1 million yellow ribbons and 6,000 tons of "ticker tape" (confetti really, with only a token amount of Wall Street's outmoded paper ribbon imported for the occasion), New York parade planners promise "the greatest ticker tape parade in history."
Indeed, the superlatives - and insults - have been flying faster than the Stealth fighter that's set to soar over Washington tomorrow to kick off the parade, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"New York's version of a flyby is the Trump shuttle over the Meadowlands," jabs Carol McCain, director of media relations for the D.C. bash.
Washington's version, with its Blackhawks, Apache helicopter, F-14s, -15s and -16s, and a B-52, will be supplemented by a
display on the National Mall of helicopters, fighter planes, and other war equipment.
The Desert Storm Homecoming Foundation, an organization of veterans groups including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans, raised about $4 million cash and about $1 million in goods and services for the celebration. The day includes a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery by President Bush, a picnic for 22,000 parade participants and their families, a USO show with singer Barbara Mandrell and the largest fireworks display ever seen in Washington.
COMSAT Corp. and AT&T, the two largest donors, contributed $500,000 each, with other large endowments coming from the governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, General Electric, Coca-Cola and defense contractors such as Textron Inc. and Raytheon.
In addition, taxpayers will be footing a $5 million to $7 million bill for the transport of troops and hardware, as well as meals and housing for troops, according to a Defense Department source.
As workers fitted the $400,000 reviewing stand for Mr. Bush and 250 dignitaries with bulletproof glass and telephone lines this week, voices of protest and criticism could also be heard around the city.
"I'm totally outraged and opposed to it all," says Lisa Fithian, coordinator of the Washington Peace Center. "The fact that taxpayer dollars are being used for this and they're running roughshod all over the city! If we're honoring the troops, why do we need to have all this hardware and risk damaging the streets and Metro tunnels? We think it's to glorify and promote the military rather than to honor the troops."
Mr. Walters argues that "the American people paid for that equipment - they have a right to see it and understand."
Still, one anti-war group, calling itself Desert Flower Network, has planned a protest rally tomorrow in Lafayette Park as well as non-violent civil disobedience along the parade route and a silent vigil around the display of equipment.