Veterans Day marches on
Return of parade marked by tribute, call to end war
Major Margaret E. Oglesby of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, a Bronze Star recipient who served in Iraq, gave a tribute yesterday to women veterans during a ceremony at the State House. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
Two World War I veterans, one leaning on a cane, the other steadying himself on his wheelchair, patted the heads of Boy Scouts and kissed the hands of female admirers.
A mother with a tiny American flag perched in her hair cheered as her 15-year-old daughter marched down Boylston Street in a crisp green uniform.
A father whose son was killed in Iraq drove a truck hauling a flag-draped coffin, as protesters chanted, "Bring the troops home now!"
These were a few of the sometimes-clashing scenes that played out in downtown Boston yesterday as old soldiers gathered for a tribute at the State House and the city revived its Veterans Day parade after a one-year hiatus. The commemorations came at a pivotal moment, four days after Americans registered dissatisfaction with President Bush's policies in Iraq by electing a Democratic majority in Congress.
"I hope this new administration can bring our boys home," said Christine McDonald, 79, whose son, Donald, died in Vietnam. She was one of about 20 "Gold Star" mothers given a rose during the State House ceremony.
The parade's return was not without controversy. An antiwar group, Veterans for Peace, was banned from the parade after members said they wanted to march with signs expressing their opposition to the war. But organizers of the parade said they wanted all participants to carry only flags and a banner displaying their name.
"This is not a day to support a political speech," said John P. Comer, a parade organizer and the past national commander of the American Legion. "This is a day to support our men and women in uniform."
Instead, members of the Veterans for Peace decided to march just steps behind the color guards and military bands in the main parade. Escorted by two policemen on motorcycles, they carried signs that read, "Honor the Warrior; Condemn the War," and "War Is A Racket; A Few Profit, Many Pay."
Many parade-goers cheered and applauded as they marched past, seemingly unaware that they were not part of the official procession.
The parade was canceled last year, Comer said, because a small turnout made it hardly worth the effort. Some antiwar protesters said it was because they had wanted to be included. This year, encouraged by Michael Graham, a conservative talk-radio host, parade organizers decided to give the event another shot.
Finding people to march, however, was a challenge because many of the National Guard and Army Reserve units that marched in years past have been called up to serve in Iraq, Comer said. He said the American Legion turned instead to members of the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
"Without the ROTC, it would be tough to have a decent parade," Comer said. "We used to have mountains and mountains of troops in our parade every year."
Several hundred people lined the parade route from Charles and Boylston streets to City Hall. Many waved American flags and clapped as teenagers from the Junior ROTC and veterans from every war since World War II marched to the beat of a bass drum and bagpipes.
Comer called the size of the crowd "far beyond our expectations," but said it was still small compared with the 1970s when people packed the sidewalks six and seven deep.
Relatives of Shane-e Bullock Greenidge beamed as the 15-year-old marched by in her green Junior ROTC uniform.
"She looks like a true soldier," said her mother, Sandra.
Carlos Arredondo, whose son, Alex, died in Iraq in 2004, drove the truck hauling the coffin. He made national headlines when he set himself on fire inside a van that the Marines had used to bring him the news of his son's death. He survived, but suffered burns on 26 percent of his body.
At the State House ceremony, the stars of the event were World War I veterans Antonio Pierro, 110, of Swampscott, and Russell Buchanan, 106, of Watertown.
Applauded and cheered by dozens of fellow veterans, they rose slowly to their feet and nodded in gratitude.
"They're a little rusty, but just as strong as ever," Governor Mitt Romney told the crowd. "Gentlemen, we salute you."
Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com.