By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
The World War II veteran sat on a stone wall near the National Museum of the American Indian, wearing a zany Hawaiian shirt and watching the District's first Memorial Day parade in decades.
In his left leg was a thumbnail-size bit of German shrapnel. In his right was a dimple, visible yesterday through his khakis, where a shard of an 88mm shell passed clean through.
But at least Howard LeFlore, a retired accountant from Tulsa, is alive, unlike so many other soldiers whose sacrifices, from the French and Indian War to Iraq, were honored yesterday.
"Those that didn't make it -- I think of them first," said LeFlore, 81.
"He promised the Lord that if he lived, he would not complain," his wife, Mable, interjected. "We have been married 51 years, and I have never heard him complain. And I know it hurts."
Organized chronologically, from the long-ago bloodshed between European settlers and Native Americans, to veterans of the current conflict in Iraq, the two-hour event became a kind of living timeline. Spectators, sometimes sparse and sometimes three deep along the route, applauded, snapped pictures or snapped salutes as aging veterans rolled past in antique cars.
Many along the route waved some of the 8,000 tiny U.S. flags given out by organizers. Donors were invited to write notes attached to the flags, and their messages were poignant:
"Survived sinking of ship in convoy by German aerial torpedoes," wrote Ted N. Andrews of Fresno, Calif. "God Bless America."
Another came from Norma Childs of Middletown, R.I. "I lost a brother in World War II," she wrote. "God bless."
Interspersed among groups symbolizing the nation's armed conflicts came bagpipers, marching bands, Girl Scout troops, Army Jeeps, a fleet of convertibles and a living sculpture reenacting the iconic moment of the Marines' flag-raising over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II.
The parade began about 9 a.m. at Third Street NW and Independence Avenue as Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the grand marshal, rolled by in a two-tone Rolls-Royce convertible, a blindingly red Nationals baseball cap on his head.
An Abe Lincoln look-alike -- his beard a little thinner than his presidential namesake -- strolled by in dour suit and stovepipe hat not far from a contingent of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Well after them came Jewish vets, African American vets and decidedly nonmilitary groups such as the McGogney Elementary School's Double Dutch team: Their fast-pumping feet became blurs in a whirl of jump ropes.
With the nation approaching its fourth year of armed conflict since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, war was uppermost on many people's minds.
"I'm proud of my country because we stand for freedom," said Carolyn Hesson, 71, of Ellicott City. She described herself as a supporter of the war in Iraq. "I just came back from New York and saw Ground Zero, and it's very prominent in my thinking."
Others considered alternatives.
"I'm thinking about peace," said Dorothy A. Walker, an unemployed clerical worker. Walker, 56, in a red and white ensemble topped off with an "I [heart] Jesus" headscarf, said she loved the parade, even though its theme also saddened her.
"Some of these wars are unnecessary -- like Vietnam. Even Iraq was unnecessary. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and still, so many die," she said.
The city's Memorial Day parade was suspended when the country entered World War II, said James C. Roberts, president of the World War II Veterans Committee, which took the lead in organizing the parade.
Last year, however, a parade was part of the four-day military salute that coincided with the dedication of the National World War II Memorial. Hoping to restart the annual tradition, Roberts's group, along with 30 co-sponsors, organized yesterday's $200,000 parade. Organizers estimated that 170 groups marched in front of about 50,000 spectators.
"Every town of any size has one of these. But for the nation's home town not to have these is amazing," Roberts said.