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Old Vet Drums Up Parade for New Vet

By Casie Vinall
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2003 – Self-proclaimed "neophyte parade planner" Paul C. Rock is on a mission. The Vietnam veteran and president of a Vietnam veterans' support group is working to ensure that his son and his fellow troops returning home from Iraq get the tribute they deserve.

Rock is the proud father of a lance corporal in the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Lance Cpl. Zachary Rock, 19, served four months in Iraq. His dad decided he wanted to organize a parade in honor of his son and the community's other veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rock got a permit for the parade to be held this Sunday, June 8, in downtown Longmont, Colo. Local officials are slated to close Main Street to all traffic.

Even though he'd never planned a parade before, Rock set out by designing flyers and finding a local print shop to make copies for free. He hosted "banner signings" at eight locations where hundreds of people expressed their appreciation. They also donated about $1,800 to give to the family of a local hero, Sgt. 1st Class Randall S. Rehn, 36, who was killed in action April 3.

So far, so good. But Rock's parade planning encountered a glitch.

Since his son returned earlier than expected and with little advance notice, Rock's only had about a week to coordinate the parade. With four days and counting, he's missing some of the necessary elements. Noticeably absent -- a color or honor guard, as well as a band.

Furthermore, Rock is having difficulty creating publicity for the event. He fears he's "giving a parade that no one will see."

"I've contacted three local high schools for marching," he said, "and although we found several kids who want to play for us on Sunday, we still have no brass or percussion sections, without which we'll have no marching band."

Rock said he also contacted several local motorcycle groups and a custom car club, but most folks already have plans for the weekend. He also contacted local recruiting stations and local police, but so far he's gotten no commitments.

Regardless, Rock keeps pressing on to make it happen because he knows the importance of recognizing service in "a noble, honorable, and righteous cause" such as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rock's plight has now reached the nation's highest military headquarters.

When the Colorado dad saw a story about Operation Tribute to Freedom on www.defendamerica.mil, the Defense Department's official Web site on the global war on terrorism, he decided this was a military campaign he wanted to join.

On Memorial Day, Pentagon officials launched Operation Tribute to Freedom "as a way to thank the men and women in uniform who have done such an amazing job," said Chris Willcox, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. The initiative is designed to thank the troops, create a stronger bond between the military and citizens, and underscore the fact that the global war on terrorism continues.

Rock sent an email asking for help.

"I just found out about Operation Tribute to Freedom a few minutes ago," Rock wrote. "First, please let me thank you for helping Americans pay tribute to the soldiers who put their lives on the line for our freedoms. I know that many Americans are desperate to do something like this, but are having difficulty in figuring out how to pull it off. Your help will be a tremendous asset."

On June 4, Rock's email reached the Pentagon, where officials are now contacting local military installations trying to locate a color guard or military band that could be deployed. But, four days is pretty short notice.

So what will become of the parade? For Rock, regardless of the outcome, the parade will be a success. "Even if the parade turns out to only be a handful of people," Rock said, "I'll be satisfied in knowing that we're doing the right thing."

(Casie Vinall is an intern working in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePaul C. Rock, president of the Vietnam Survivors group, stands with his fellow veterans and one of eight banners signed by the public. Hundreds of signatures fill the banners, which will be displayed during the parade. From the back left are Paul Rock, John Bennett, Pete Reynolds and Chuck DeSario. Kneeling in front from the left are Dean Magnuson, Bruce Carter, Larry Tidquist, Michael Smith, Pat Huss and Earl Kolbe. Photo courtesy of Paul C. Rock   
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