Pride, doubt march along with paraders in New York PAPER SHOWER

June 11, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

NEW YORK -- Even in his euphoria, after marching off Broadway at the end of New York's welcome home parade, Army Spc. Michael Prins wondered how long the feeling would last.

"If a war has to bring the United States together, like it did today, then we're in trouble," said Prins, 24, a reservist from Jersey City, N.J. "You had a better chance of survival on the field of battle than on the streets of New York."

A few ranks behind him, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael Caldwell, 57, was hoping that the pride would last and that this parade would make up for the one the country refused to throw for him and his comrades when they returned from Vietnam. Now Caldwell, a New York City reservist, could say, "I'm proud as hell," as the hundreds of thousands of people lining Broadway wanted him to be.

Yesterday's parade and the one Saturday in Washington each dipped the tip of its euphoria in doubt. Soldiers and cheering civilians alike were aware that the crime and squalor in each host city would stay long after the confetti and streamers were swept away, and that this was the proper homecoming that veterans of the war in Vietnam never got.

There were differences, too.

New York had the tradition. The Rev. Bede Babo, 91, of Linden, N.J., said today's troops seemed to march "more orderly" than the young men in the parade that welcomed Gen. John J. Pershing home from World I.

And in place of the famous World War II photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, a dozen soldiers outside a bar in a warehouse district at the parade's end took turns autographing a white T-shirt worn by a fetching young woman.

She offered them her pen and smiled demurely as they went to work.

Organizers of the New York parade said theirs was not about victory -- as the Washington parade had been with tanks and helicopters parked on the Mall -- but about peace through "international cooperation."

This semantic point seemed lost on the cheering Broadway crowds and on those among them who indulged in screaming and shoving matches with the occasional cluster of anti-war demonstrators.

The distinction, such as it was, surfaced more clearly the night before at a memorial service in the cavernous Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Protesters in the pews loosed death screams at Gens. Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell and at Defense Secretary Richard Cheney as each began a reflective reading on war and its horror.

After the screamers were hustled away, and the service progressed to a multifaith prayer offered in turns by clergy of various faiths, a local imam raised a curdling scream of his own as he reached a section of the prayer asking forgiveness "for the sin of war."

Both parades were meant not only as an appreciation, but also as a healing of wounds from this war and, indirectly, from the previous one in Vietnam.

President Bush proclaimed the end of the "Vietnam syndrome" in announcing the end of the gulf war. "There's a new and wonderful feeling in America," the president said at services in Arlington National Cemetery,

But Glen Loy, who had gone to Washington to cheer the homecoming troops, said, "that's a bunch of crap." A Vietnam veteran, Loy said he had made the trip from his home in Linwood, Pa., because he knew the Desert Storm troops "suffer some problems from being over there [in the Middle East]. This is part of their healing process."

Loy's apparently had yet to come. He said this parade could never be for him, because each war forms a bond among its veterans "that's going to be with us until the day we die."

Gulf war veterans were already feeling theirs. In the month since returning to her civilian job as a nurse in Philadelphia, Navy Reserve Lt. Christine Hunt has missed the closeness with comrades she felt while treating casualties in a Marine support field hospital. There, she said, "you live with the thought that you could die at any time."

But kinship was possible across wars. As Spc. Donnell Gonzales marched in New York, he met the gaze of a man in the crowd who was wearing a Vietnam era campaign hat. Their eyes met. "And, like, I had the same feelings he did," said Gonzales.

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