By Sabina Mollot
On Sunday, around 25,000 veterans, active military personnel and their supporters marched up Fifth Avenue from 23rd Street for New York City’s annual Veterans Day Parade.
The city’s parade, which is the largest in the country, this year celebrated the centennial of the end of World War I, with the army the featured branch of the military.
Prior to the march, speakers mentioned how that war presented a number of firsts, including women joining the ranks. Additionally, one tenth of the military during what was then known as “The Great War” or “The World War” were residents of New York State, half of those New Yorkers from the city.
The pre-parade ceremony, which took place outside Madison Square Park, also highlighted the recent re-landscaping of the park’s Eternal Light Flagstaff monument, which included a new entrance, aimed at making the monument more prominent. The flagstaff was dedicated to WWI veterans in 1924.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose father lost half a leg to a Japanese grenade during WWII, spoke about the importance of making sure veterans get health and housing services they need.
“If you know a veteran who’s not getting healthcare or who is homeless or struggling with mental illness, it’s up to us to find them and meet them to support them, to embrace them,” de Blasio said. “That’s what we should aspire to today. If you are a business owner, the best thing you can do is hire a veteran.”
Paul Bucha, who won a congressional medal of honor for service during the Vietnam War, also spoke about getting veterans mental health services in particular, bringing up the recent shooting massacre at a California bar by a former Marine.
“This entire thing that went on in California is not something we can ignore,” said Bucha. “We have to understand the mental issues we bring back to this country, maybe decades later. Those mental issues are our responsibility to cure and help those who are suffering from them. We have to remember that someone who sacrifices goes on sacrificing.”
The parade’s grand marshal, Army veteran Captain Florent Groberg, also touched on the issue. While serving in Afghanistan, one day Groberg tackled a suicide bomber, causing his explosive to prematurely detonate, an act that ended up saving numerous lives. However, he was severely wounded and is now medically retired. Now an advocate for the disabled, Groberg said it was important for veterans to focus on the positive.
“When you’re struggling, when you’re facing dark days, take a step back, put yourself in a room away from others and find that one positive in the negative situation. Grasp on it and fight for that positive.”
Following the ceremony, the parade kicked off, as always, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of eleventh month. Despite the brisk weather, enthusiastic spectators could be found all along the route to 45th Street, sometimes three people deep. The parade’s organizer is the United War Veterans Council.