Veterans Getting Too Old for Parade
Nov. 10, 1997
VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ For the first time in 51 years, there will be no Veterans Day parade in Vero Beach.
There will be no men marching the streets with heavy rifles cradled in their arms, no old soldiers walking stoically under the weight of their nation's flag strapped at their belts.
The parade has become a casualty of the battle against age.
The World War II veterans are simply too old to walk the route, which is a little more than a mile long.
``We have people who are somewhere around 80 years old, and they can't carry the big heavy flags they carried 20 years ago,'' said Bud Gibbs, 74, a former prisoner of war and vice president of Indian River County's Veterans Council. ``We would be foolish to think we could do that, any more than we could play baseball like we used to.''
Instead, a celebration is planned Tuesday at Memorial Island, eight immaculate acres in the Intracoastal Waterway. Golf carts will take the older participants the 100 yards or so from the mainland parking lot to the island.
The experience in Indian River County _ a citrus region of about 100,000 people, nearly a third of them over 65 _ is becoming increasingly common in communities around the country.
During the past two years, the number of surviving World War II veterans fell below the number of Vietnam veterans for the first time.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 6.7 million veterans of World War II are still alive, with an average age of 77. There are 8.2 million Vietnam War veterans, with an average age of 51.
``What we're seeing broadly across the country is _ in a word _ life,'' said Phil Budahn, spokesman for the American Legion. ``One generation passes from the scene and other generations come forward.''
Whether veterans of more recent wars will organize and participate in Veterans Day activities in the same way that their World War II counterparts have done remains to be seen. Age is not the only factor.
With Vietnam, many veterans returned feeling shame or disgust _ not the warm embrace of a proud nation. And while the Persian Gulf War restored some of the lost patriotism, that dissipated rapidly, said Chris Scheer, a spokesman for Veterans Affairs.
``The legacy of Vietnam is that patriotism, overt patriotism, really wasn't in fashion for some time,'' Scheer said. ``I think that's changing.''
While veterans parades in some large metropolitan areas seem to be losing their luster, celebrations have been given new life in communities such as Branson, Mo., Birmingham, Ala. _ even the nation's capital. This year, for only the second time since 1932, Washington will hold a veterans parade.
This year's celebration in Vero Beach promises to be dominated, as it has been for nearly half a century, by World War II veterans. Several hundred people are expected to gather on the island around an 80-foot pole bearing a 30-by-20-foot American flag.
``That's the only thing we got that says we're still here,'' said Ed Lohman, 76, a 37-year Navy reservist who took part in World War II, Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs.
Gibbs, who parachuted from a plane and survived nearly 16 months in a German POW camp, said the number of participants in Veterans Day events is not significant _ as long as it is strong enough to get the message to the next generations.
``When we pass on, hopefully we will have taught our children and other people this is something we should always do,'' he said.