Monday, January 28, 2013

Welcome Home the Heroes

Welcome Home the Heroes Parade

Cindy Paul

Our treasured Veterans allow us to work and play with the knowledge that our freedom is protected. There is no possible way our gratitude can equal this service. However, St. Louis expressed its thanks in a way that is close exactly one year ago. First, they honored the Fallen Soldiers who gave the ultimate gift. Next, they threw a party! Finally, they found ways to instill hope, build confidence and provide opportunities to enjoy the freedom our Veterans worked so hard to safeguard.

On the steps of the Soldiers Memorial in St. Louis late on the evening of January 27, 2012 at 9:11, friends and family gathered to pay homage to the soldiers who died while serving our Country. The reading of over 6000 names broke through the quiet night air one at a time followed by a single bell toll. The vigil lasted all night. Light rain and cold temperatures could not stop the resolve of those reading or those grieving. The long somber hours remembering family and friends who lost their lives gave way to a frigid but bright morning.

On January 28, 2012, St. Louis then hosted a parade that traveled north on Market Street from Kiener Plaza to Union Station. Close to 100 floats, bands and groups marched up Market. The participants were Veterans from all branches of the military and from all eras. Although, the focus was to honor returning Vets from the post 9/11 wars, representatives from Desert Storm, the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II walked proudly. Families of Veterans joined as well. Nearly 1000 Veterans and their families participated. Approximately 100,000 citizens lined the streets in support of this event. The crowd was basically a sea of red, white and blue.

The Welcome Home the Heroes Parade concluded at Union Station. Ironically, this was once a bustling railroad station that welcomed home heroes from previous wars. It now played host to many organizations serving Veterans in what was known as the “Veterans Resource Village.” Booths and tables spread throughout the station touting the various services now available to Veterans to help transition back to civilian life or even prepare them to continue the fight in Afghanistan or other parts of the world. People from all over the Country came to St. Louis to walk, watch or weep as they viewed the memorial displayed inside Union Station.

This grand event came together in only 30 days due to the efforts of a small group of dedicated individuals who faced great odds and possessed little money. What began as a simple Facebook page in the virtual world ended as a big event in the real world. These efforts started a phenomenon across the nation. National television and media exposure helped stir interest and now other cities have started their own Facebook pages and parades. Their motto is “People, not Politics.” The event was financed, primarily, with lots of very small donations.

The citizens thanked the organizers, volunteers, mayor and all of St. Louis for stepping up to place our Veterans in a special place of honor on that Saturday and everyday after. The war may be ending but the fight is still on.

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