The organization of the city’s first veterans’ parade almost never was.
It started as a loosely formed idea in 2014, but caught the attention of the powerful Congressman Bob Brady, who expressed incredulity when he learned that veterans didn’t have a city-wide parade. This I-can-make-it-happen guy joined Councilman David Oh, the only veteran on City Council, and others in a February 2015 press conference to launch the parade.
But things were shaky from the start. There was no money in the bank and in fact, there was no bank. It was an amorphous group with no clearly defined leadership and little or no experience in putting on a city-wide parade.
Meetings were marked by rambling discussions from the 40 or so well-intentioned veterans and some of them were becoming more and more alarmed as the clock marched toward Veterans Day.
Our first priority was paying for the city services, largely police overtime, that we were told would be needed for an event lasting at least eight hours on a Sunday. And there were other expenses, ranging from portable toilets to promotion. A few of us beat the corporate bushes and Comcast came on board with a presenting sponsorship of $25,000. Others followed with smaller amounts.
So, the first city-wide veterans’ parade was lurching along. By summer there was an executive committee in place to manage the production, a website had been established, and we actually had some participants signed up. Cadets from West Point and the Naval Academy would be marching, and we had scheduled a dramatic parachute jump on Independence Mall.
Let me qualify my use of the word “first,” since parades and other events focused on veterans have been held for years in the tri-state area. Bridesburg holds a successful parade on Memorial Day, which is the more popular observance for parades. But probably the best-known Veterans Day parade in the area is Media’s, currently run by Mayor Bob McMahon, a member of the leadership of the Philadelphia parade. New York City holds a Veterans Day parade boasting 25,000 participants. It’s billed as the largest in the nation.
“The parade isn’t just about one day a year,” said Anthony Murphy, president of the Philadelphia Veterans Parade. “It’s about helping veterans and raising awareness of issues veterans face 365 days a year.”
There are several reasons why Philadelphia hadn’t had its own Veterans Day parade before, but perhaps the most prevalent is the fact that there were so many other observances in the area to mark the occasion. In fact, it is with those celebrations in mind that Philadelphia always schedules its parade well before Nov. 11. Parade organizers don’t want to detract from local traditions that have been going on for decades.
But they did think it was important that veterans in our region, and the day set aside to honor them, received broader recognition. Veterans Day is too often confused with Memorial Day, which honors the war dead. Veterans Day is for the living, recognizing service to the nation in war or peace. Part of the confusion about the two holidays stems from many ceremonies for both that are held at sites such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which recognizes the sacrifices of 648 from our city in that conflict.
The goal, then, for parade organizers was for all those in Philadelphia and its suburbs on both sides of the Delaware to take time to recognize those who have served and thank them for their sacrifices and commitment to the country. If we can have a parade when the Eagles win the Super Bowl, and another to salute a national championship by Villanova, we can show up and honor real heroes.
“It’s important to salute veterans, and to recognize that the men and women who have served this nation are our neighbors, friends and family members who are proud of their time in uniform,” said Anthony Murphy, who has been president of the Philadelphia Veterans Parade Inc. since 2017.
So join the celebration this Sunday, Nov. 3, at noon, for the fifth annual Philadelphia Veterans Parade. It will start near City Hall and march down Market to Sixth Street, ending at the Veterans Festival, which runs until 4 p.m. Organizers are expecting more than 7,000 participants in the parade this year, representing more than 150 groups, including 21 veteran service organizations. And, at the festival, veterans and family members can have fun and gain access to a number of resources, from job recruitment to health-care benefits and educational opportunities
“The parade isn’t just about one day a year,” Murphy emphasizes. “It’s about helping veterans and raising awareness of issues veterans face 365 days a year.”
And don’t worry about missing the Eagles-Bears game at 1 p.m. A big screen will be set up at the festival.
Despite the rocky start five short years ago, the Philadelphia Veterans Parade is on solid ground, and getting bigger and better. Come on out Sunday and salute all the veterans to whom the nation owes so much.
A former Marine infantry officer, Terry A. Williamson is president of the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial and was the first president of Philadelphia Veterans Parade Inc.
(Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Veterans Parade.)