Tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans paraded triumphantly here today, celebrating an emotional welcome home from a war that ended 11 years ago.
They marched in sunshine behind their wartime commander, retired general William C. Westmoreland, who served as grand marshal with James Patridge, a legless Chicago veteran who became a hero again last week when he revived a child who had fallen into a pool.
Another legless vet, Bob Wieland of Pasadena, Calif., who was wounded in 1969 north of Saigon, marched just ahead of Westmoreland.
The parade began at lakefront Olive Park, named for Congressional Medal of Honor winner Pfc. Milton Lee Olive III, who was killed in 1965 when he threw himself on a hand grenade to save four buddies. It ended in Grant Park, the scene of antiwar demonstrations that disrupted the Democratic National Convention in 1968.
"We're all flattered by the attention," Westmoreland told reporters as parade units began forming at 8 a.m. "It's an exhilarating experience. It's interesting to see how the American public has changed."
Large green banners welcoming the marchers hung from every La Salle Street light pole. The parade included 68 marching outfits and several military bands. The marchers included disabled veterans, former prisoners of war, Congressional Medal of Honor winners, mothers and wives of some of the more than 50,000 who died in Southeast Asia, representatives of veterans organizations and a contingent of veterans from Australia, which also sent troops to serve in Vietnam.
Police estimated that 200,000 people marched in the parade, while 500,000 turned out to watch and cheer. The turnout was eight times greater than the 25,000 who marched in a similar celebration in New York a year ago and the biggest gathering of Vietnam soldiers since the war. And it stopped the city in its tracks.
Construction workers waved flags. Window washers hailed the marchers from scaffolds hung high above the city. Police turned from holding back crowds to applaud the veterans. Elevated-train motormen stopped or slowed their trains as they passed over the march, blowing their whistles in shrill salutes.
A prime parade-watching spot was the Grand Avenue overpass, lined two and three abreast on both sides of Michigan Avenue.
Ed Parnell, 33, almost out of place in his tailored suit, marched the three miles carrying a large, color picture of his brother Carl. "He paid the ultimate price," Parnell said. "He was a high school all-star but came back hooked on drugs and alcohol. He died of Vietnam.