Columnist John Paradis: Veterans say forget Trump’s military parade

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Korolev, right, and Commander of Western military district Andrei Kartapolov arrive to attend the military parade during the Navy Day celebration in St.Petersburg, Russia, on July 30, 2017. AP FILE PHOTO

Thursday, March 08, 2018

I grew up during the Cold War. Next to watching the “Wizard of Oz” year after year, one of the indelible images from my youth was seeing pictures of the Soviet-era parades from Red Square in Moscow.

I don’t know which was scarier to a 7-year-old, the Wicked Witch of the West and flying monkeys, or goose-stepping Russian troops?

It both spooked me and bewildered me to see those massive rallies. First, there were the trucks with intercontinental ballistic missiles hell-bent on destroying America and, we were told, rockets that could blow up our entire planet to smithereens. Never mind that we had our own missiles pointed at them.

Then, wave after wave of soldiers followed by wave after wave of tanks. What a spectacle — our great enemy with its mighty wartime machine.

Later, after I joined the service, I would march in many military parades myself. Honestly, most of us were never too pleased with getting up early to spit-shine the boots and press the uniform in order to stand at attention in the hot sun. Trust me, ask a veteran about being in parades and enjoy the answers with expletives.

Later, I would go on to help organize several celebrations from D-Day commemorations in Europe to a Desert Storm parade in the Midwest. They were all great PR for the Department of Defense, but I always asked how much do these things cost? And how much rump pain were we creating for the troops?

So when President Donald Trump launched his idea of a grandiose military parade on the scale of a French Bastille Day-like extravaganza, the majority of us who have worn the uniform wondered if the intent is more about hype and producing a mega-event, and, in turn, a mega-expense, than about honoring our servicemen and servicewomen.

A poll taken in February by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America of its post-9/11 generation members showed that 57 percent strongly opposed the idea of the proposed military parade, which the Pentagon has been tasked to plan for Veterans Day this year.

Another 13 percent were opposed; 8 percent were neutral; 7 percent favored the idea; and 15 percent strongly supported the idea.

More than 50,000 readers of Military Times, which serves active, reserve, National Guard and retired U.S. military personnel and their families, also responded to a poll. The majority, 89 percent said, “no, it’s a waste of time and troops are too busy.” The other 11 percent responded “Yes, it’s a great opportunity to show off U.S. military might.”

Social media sites frequented by active-duty military members and veterans also exploded in reaction. Many suggested that instead of spending an estimated $30 million on a parade, direct the funds to help veterans in need.

There was one population of veterans, however, that doesn’t tend to frequent Facebook and Twitter, or at least as much, and that’s Vietnam veterans, who like me, grew up with transistor radios and TV sets with rabbit ears.

If you want an honest answer about current events, ask a Vietnam War veteran. They most always have a very cautious view and won’t mince words. And if there’s anyone who deserves to be heard about having a military parade, it’s the Vietnam War veteran.

More than 1,300 men and women from Massachusetts were killed in Vietnam. Most were kids, 18 and 19 years old, and the veterans I spoke with went to war — most drafted — during a time of flag-waving patriotism.

Most never got a parade when they returned home and most didn’t want one either — our nation wasn’t exactly welcoming them with open arms, if you recall. Since then, various cities have, from time to time, honored Vietnam War veterans, but there’s never been one done on a national scale. They now have a commander-in-chief who received five draft deferments.

So I asked them the question: Instead of a super-costly, super-extravagant military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, how about a long overdue national homecoming parade for Vietnam War veterans instead? Why not a parade with Vietnam vets for a belated welcome home?

The cost of a major display of Pentagon armament would not be appropriate at a time when many Americans are struggling, most of them told me.

They also said that if there is a parade, it shouldn’t be celebratory but should rather be solemn and respectful of all military members from all wars to include civilians who were affected by the horrors of war, including those on the home front.

Have a forum or cross-talk about wartime service, instead, said Daniel “Pete” Rogers, who was a captain in Vietnam.

“I doubt many Vietnam War veterans want anything more than to be heard – like all vets,” said Rogers, who today helps educate the community about veterans as a member of the Veterans and Families Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst.

“I do think it’s time for all veterans to be thanked for their service in a national way that helps with healing, but what I would hate to see is the United States of America beating our chest and showing our military might,” said Tom Pease, who, as the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8006 in Florence, is planning this year’s 150th anniversary Florence Memorial Day parade, an appropriate remembrance of our nation’s war dead.

Our nation has by and large refrained from elaborate military displays in the past few decades because, well, our military “doesn’t need to remind anyone about how professional and lethal it is,” wrote Alex Kingsbury in the Boston Globe last year. “Everybody knows.”

I would also add that we can learn something more from our Vietnam War veterans.

If Vietnam taught us anything, it’s that waging war should only be done with the full support of our nation. The same with waging a saber-rattling parade.

Our veterans have spoken loud and clear: Forget it.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a column published the second Friday of the month. He is a veterans’ outreach coordinator for VA New England Health Care System, and can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.