Since the Iraq War ended there has been little fanfare for the veterans returning home. No ticker-tape parades. No massive, flag-waving public celebrations.
So, two friends from St. Louis decided to change that. They sought donations, launched a Facebook page, met with the mayor and mapped a route. On Saturday, hundreds of veterans are expected to march in downtown St. Louis in the nation's first big welcome home parade since the last troops left Iraq in December.
"It struck me that there was this debate going on as to whether there should or shouldn't be a parade," said Tom Appelbaum, one of the organizers. "Instead of waiting around for somebody somewhere to say, 'Yes, let's have a parade,' we said, 'Let's just do it.'"
Appelbaum, a 46-year-old lawyer, and Craig Schneider, a 41-year-old school technology coordinator, said they were puzzled by the lack of celebrations marking the war's end. But, they wondered, if St. Louis could host thousands of people for a parade after their beloved Cardinals won the World Series, why couldn't there be a party for the troops who put their lives on the line?
The effort got help with donations from two corporations with St. Louis connections — $10,000 from Anheuser-Busch and $7,500 from the Mayflower moving company. Individual donations have boosted the project's total budget to about $35,000. By comparison, more than $5 million was spent two decades ago on New York's welcome-home parade for Gulf War veterans who helped drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
Ticker-tape salutes to returning troops are part of the American culture, including parades in many cities honoring veterans of World War I and World War II.
Since the end of the latest war in Iraq, there have only been small events at military posts, gatherings of families at airports and a low-key appearance by President Barack Obama at Fort Bragg, N.C., a base that endured more than 200 deaths from fighting in the war.