Homecoming: Americans Plan Enormous Party for Victorious Troops
Undated (AP) _ America’s troops are in for the biggest party in years.
″It’s gonna be a helluva welcoming home,″ says Jim Schroder, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Oceanside, Calif. ″They will not be forgotten, I guarantee you that.″
Parades are planned from Blount County, Texas to Rockland County, N.Y. Rallies are in store from Boston to Hawaii. The nation is enjoying a rush of pride in the first tentative hours of peace in the Persian Gulf.
The outpouring promises a far brighter homecoming than troops returning from the Vietnam War received two decades ago.
″I think what we did to the Vietnam veterans was a shame to America,″ said City Commissioner Abner Orick, who hopes to stage the largest parade ever in Dayton, Ohio. ″I don’t want anything like that to ever happen again.″ Many said now is the chance for some healing.
″No matter where they look, they’re going to see ‘welcome home,’ ″ said Kris Tourtellotte, a Vietnam veteran who remembers what it was like in 1969.
Tourtellotte hopes to decorate the airport, bus station, train station and the homes of soldiers from Rochester, N.Y.
It could take many months to withdraw all 537,000 U.S. troops from the Middle East. But starting in Washington, D.C., where talk at the Pentagon was of a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, people on the home front said they were ready.
″I think the American public is going to need very little advice or prompting. They’re going to give these troops a hero’s welcome,″ said U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who lost part of a leg in the Vietnam War and won the Medal of Honor.
″We’ve had something in the works since December,″ said Mayor Buddy DeLoach of Hinesville, Ga., where an old-fashioned march of the troops near Fort Stewart was planned.
In Dallas, a weekend gathering intially planned as a military support rally did a quick about-face. ″(It) will now have a slant as a victory party,″ said Jan Sargent, executive director of the Dallas Rotary Club.
It wasn’t clear whether New York could afford a full-blown parade. But the Empire State Building’s owners planned to replace the red, white and blue lights that have shone throughout the war.
Starting tonight, the landmark building was to be lit in yellow, a sign of peace and pride in the nation’s troops.
At the Missouri Capitol, a lunchtime party planned Monday for state workers with relatives in the gulf now ″will turn into a victory celebration,″ said Bob Ferguson, spokesman for Gov. John Ashcroft.
Students at the University of Delaware were planning a rally Sunday in support of troops. It, too, will become a big victory party.
In Washington, Conn., Charlie Heyman said the sign-up sheet at his general store was filling up fast. He predicted no problem assembling 360 residents to hold up red, white and blue cards for a 60-foot human flag on the green in front of Town Hall.
Wewoka’s 5,400 residents planned a boisterous welcome for the 180-member 2120th Oklahoma National Guard Supply and Service Company.
″We’re hoping to have a parade and have our troops sit in the stands at the football stadium and have everyone in town march past them,″ said Mary Gantt, who has a daughter in the reserves and leads a local support group.
Before the cease-fire was official, Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi had been planning a big homecoming to which President Bush, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf will be invited.
″Our victorious men and women in the Middle East deserve a Royal Hawaiian welcome when they finally come home,″ Fasi said. ″It will be a red, white and blue aloha that will come from every heart of every American on our island.″
Feeling more cautious, anti-war veterans planned a peace vigil Saturday at the Naval Air Station in Grand Prairie, Texas. ″Things are still up in the air,″ said Joe Lowe, a member of the Dallas Coalition for Middle East Peace. ″People are waiting to see what’s going on in the world.″
Gov. Ray Mabus decided to celebrate with pizza at an enormous weekend party for relatives of 5,000 Mississippi servicemen. About 2,000 pizzas were ordered for delivery to the governor’s mansion in Jackson, where about 3,000 guests were expected.
Troops returning to the Lafayette, La., area can count on festivities with a Cajun French accent set to the music of fiddles and squeeze boxes. In McCook, Neb., organizers got ready to decorate the community college’s stadium in yellow ribbons and helium balloons for a weekend ″Operation Desert Salute.″
In Delano, Calif., about 150 miles from Los Angeles, residents began planning the return of 50 native sons and daughters the day the war began.
″I think people learned a lesson from Vietnam,″ said Bob Jefferson, a former Marine whose son, daughter and son-in-law are all Marine sergeants. ″A lot of kids came home needing help, and they didn’t get it.″