Memorial Day Parade Honors America's Fallen Troops
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 29, 2006 On a day that is meant to represent more than just the unofficial start of the summer season, thousands of people lined Constitution Avenue here to watch a Memorial Day parade commemorating U.S. troops who have died while serving their country.
Members of the Nassau-Suffolk Horsemen's Association from Long Island, N.Y., march in the National Memorial Day Parade down Constitution Avenue in Washington, May 29. Photo by Steven Donald Smith
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"The parade is great. I love it," said Todd Stockstiol, of Memphis, Tenn. "We can't take all the wonderful blessings we have in this country for granted. American troops have sacrificed so much for us. I really appreciate it."
The annual National Memorial Day Parade honors all U.S. military personnel who have served their country in uniform from the American Revolution to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and seeks to educate Americans about the sacrifices made by those who protect the nation, event organizers said.
The one-mile parade included active-duty servicemembers representing the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, marching bands from across the country and several parade floats. Hundreds of veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the battles in Grenada and Somalia, and the Gulf War also marched in the parade, along with representatives from countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Canada.
Emmy Award-winning actor and film director Gary Sinise served as the grand marshal of the parade. The actor has been an active participant in the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program, which showcases Americans' support for U.S. troops. He also has visited troops stationed overseas on numerous occasions and launched the nonprofit organization "Operation Iraqi Children," which collects school supplies for Iraq's children.
Sinise said it was an honor to be the grand marshal of the parade. "This is a great way to spend Memorial Day," he said. "I can't think of a better way."
The parade also included several honorary marshals, such as 106-year-old World War I veteran Lloyd Brown. Brown is one of fewer than 30 World War I veterans still alive.
This year's parade was organized by the National Memorial Day Parade Committee, a coalition of military, veteran and civic groups in association with the White House Commission on Remembrance, America Supports You and the World War II Veterans Committee of the American Veterans Center, parade officials said.
Memorial Day, initially called Decoration Day, was first observed in 1868 with the purpose of decorating the graves of Union soldiers killed during the American Civil War. After World War I, it expanded in scope to honor all U.S. troops who died during all wars. One of the longest standing Memorial Day traditions is the Indianapolis 500, which has been running in conjuntion with the holiday weekend since 1911.
Anna Delao-Legeros, an Army veteran, said she came to the nation's capital with some of her classmates from the New York City College of Technology to pay her respects to the men and women who gave their lives to defend the United States and its ideals.
"Freedom is not free," she said. "It's important to remember that somebody has to pay for it."