This past Saturday I watched a Veterans Day parade along Harrison Avenue. The crowd clapped politely as troops from the various services marched by. (Even the Boy Scouts got cheers.) Probably no one realized that some of the cross streets that they were marching by were named after World War I commanders; Haig, Foch, Diaz and a French forest (Argonne) that was a battle site. At the corner of Harrison Avenue and Memphis Street, three firemen leaned against their truck and watched. If anyone at the scene was likely to see action that night, it would more likely be them rather than the passing soldiers. Nevertheless, the moment belonged to the military.
Watching the parade reminded me of another parade years earlier, which also included former soldiers who had long ago fought their war.
I had found myself feeling more emotional than I expected when I walked alongside the staging area for a military parade, especially when I saw an Army truck carrying veterans from the 101st Airborne. The date was June 6, 2000, opening day for what was then known as the National D-Day Museum.
Those gentle looking old men on the truck were the ones who in the first stages of the 1944 D-Day invasion parachuted behind enemy lines to secure bridges and roads. It was one of the deadliest assignments of the war. On that distant day, the men of the 101st sat and waited for the invasion to begin. This day, they were back in an Army vehicle sitting and waiting for a parade to begin. One old soldier stood to stretch and revealed a stump of a right leg. On one arm was the tattoo of a parachute. Another man rested his artificial leg in the sun. Others seemed fit; all had stories to tell.
Then there was the truck carrying veterans of the 2nd Armored Division. Known as “Hell on Wheels,” the division rumbled from Normandy through France toward decisive battles at the Bulge.
Some Jeeps carried Congressional Medal of Honor winners. A van delivered each of these men to their vehicle. A few never achieved rank higher than private, but as each elderly man climbed out of the van, the military officials attending them snapped to a salute.
Faces were fascinating. There were some old tired faces on the trucks, and some faces not so old, belonging to men who obviously went to war as children.
Then there were the faces of the current military. They were all young faces, just like the nervous faces of war 56 year earlier.
(In the Normandy town of Sainte-Mère-Église the church’s stain glass windows depict scene of what might be thought of as descents from heaven by saviors. Only these are American soldier brought to earth by parachutes rather than angel wings.)
Sometimes history makes dramatic demands of certain generations. On the day that the museum opened the nation was at peace. Fifteen months later, on Sept. 11, 2001, the world would change. Once more there would be enemy lines, and nervous young soldiers having to breech them.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.