NEW YORK -- Operation Desert Storm turned into Operation Paper Storm yesterday as New York bestowed its traditional heroes welcome -- a colossal ticker tape parade -- on thousands of gulf war troops who marched up Broadway flanked by nearly 5 million spectators.
Just two days after Washington feted the men and women of Desert Storm with a high-tech victory celebration that showed off the military's hardware, New York took its turn at a welcome-home celebration, showing off the city's knack for throwing a party.
There were no stealth bombers or F-14s flying overhead here. Instead, 6,000 tons of ticker tape, 10,000 pounds of multicolored confetti, enough red, white and blue balloons to fill a six-story building, reams of computer paper, shredded telephone books and millions of yellow ribbons came pouring out of the skyscrapers of Manhattan's financial district, showering 24,000 marchers.
Leading the parade down New York's historic "Canyon of Heroes," a section of Lower Manhattan painted with yellow ribbons for the occasion, were Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin L. Powell and Operation Desert Storm commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, all riding in open vintage convertibles to a thunderous, nearly deafening ovation.
General Schwarzkopf, waving and giving a "thumbs up" to the joyous, flag-waving crowd estimated by police at 4.7 million, called the reception "unbelievable."
Spectators hung out of 40th-floor windows, perched on ledges, buses, rooftops and clock towers and squeezed in about 30-deep along the parade route, the 1-mile stretch along which such heroes as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Charles Lindbergh and, just last year, Nelson Mandela have been showered with paper and affection.
A spokesman for New York Mayor David N. Dinkins said yesterday's four-hour parade in the sweltering, midday heat was the largest in the city's history.
"It's overwhelming," said Lt. Robert Wetzel, a former Desert Storm prisoner of war who rode the route standing in a jeep, tears welling up in his eyes. "I've never seen such a thing."
Delores Singleton of Brooklyn ran out and kissed her son, Army Spc. James Singleton, as he marched by.
Marine Corps Cpl. Robert Brewer of Camp Lejeune, N.C., worked the crowd like a seasoned politician, signing autographs, hugging babies and slapping high-fives with onlookers. "I love this," said the Seattle native.
"New York has a lot of problems, but it does know how to give a parade," said spectator Lou Censullo, a psychologist from White Plains, N.Y. "Is there any other city in the 50 states where you'd see such electricity and devotion?"
Or where you'd see a dog outfitted in an American flag T-shirt, sunglasses and cap on the same block as a businessman in pinstripes talking on his cellular phone?
As Mayor Dinkins said from the reviewing stand he shared with hundreds of dignitaries, "Only in New York."
In contrast to D.C.'s all-military parade, this colorful march seemed to be a parade for everyone. Along with the 12,000 Desert Storm troops who tromped through the debris were about 6,000 veterans of other wars; dozens of bands and dance groups (everything from a "Gals" kazoo band to stilt dancers); hundreds of New Yorkers in ethnic costumes; dignitaries from the nations of the coalition forces in the gulf, and a smattering of military equipment including the famed Patriot missile. There were floats. There were Budweiser Clydesdale horses. There was Brooke Shields, Bo Diddley, Melba Moore, Keith Carradine.
"The British people would love this," said Kathleen MacDonald of Bracknell, England, vacationing here with her husband. "All we had was a big church service with the queen present, so we decided to come over here for this. We're Americans for one day."
Just as loud and ardent as the adulation for the Desert Storm vets was the cheering for the contingent of Vietnam veterans. "This is the thrill of a lifetime," said marcher Richard Florio, a Vietnam vet from Chester, N.Y.
Spectator Wiley Tinkler, a Vietnam veteran from Queens, N.Y., said just watching the parade was enough for him. "When we came back, we didn't get anything like this. They spit on me, threw things at me. But everything keeps on moving. This is great to see."
Not everyone agreed. Police reported 37 arrests and several fights in which 13 officers suffered minor injuries. One spectator ran out from the curb and shoved a member of the Big Apple Corps Gay & Lesbian Band.
Members of the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East staked out two corners with signs reading, "Money for Jobs and School: Not War" and "Refuse and Resist."
"This parade is a diversion away from the real problems we're facing at home like homelessness, unemployment, union busting, racism," said Coalition spokesman Monica Moorehead. "We don't need a parade. We need solutions to the real economic and social problems around the country."
The $5 million welcome-home celebration, which included a massive fireworks display last night, was funded entirely by private donations. More than $2 million of the money raised was earmarked for the 2,700 police officers who worked the parade route -- and for the massive clean-up. By the end of the parade, city workers had an estimated 12 million pounds of paper to sweep.