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It's time to honor heroes in red, white and blue

Jonathan P Hicks | 2/16/2012, 3:56 p.m.
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The parade earlier this week was a highly festive one. Sailing triumphantly down the streets of lower Manhattan were the beaming members of the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants, flanked by an ebullient New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and an ecstatic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. They were cheered by New Yorkers of every age, race and socioeconomic class. It was a moment of joyous celebration and appreciation.

It is a scene that has been repeated for generations, starting in the 1880s with an impromptu parade that took place after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. Over the years, there have been parades for sports teams after winning championships, including nine ticker tape parades for the Yankees, three for the Mets and two for the Giants. There have also been ticker tape parades for scientists, aviators and presidents.

There have even been ticker tape parades for a number of African leaders, including two for Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. That honor was also bestowed on Ahmed Sekou Toure, president of Guinea; Felix Houphouet-Boigny, president of the Ivory Coast; and Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa.

However, there is no plan for a ticker tape parade for the veterans of the war in Iraq, at least not for now. And that is a shame-and a mistake.

After leaving the comfort of home to risk their lives in a war that should never have been waged, the men and women who did their duty in Iraq should be honored for their sacrifice. The Iraq War thrust men and women into the most horrific of danger. They were dispatched initially by President George W. Bush to root out weapons of mass destruction that never existed. Yet, there they went. They were men and women of all races and ethnicities from American cities large and small. They were dispatched from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island.

Of course, a ticker tape parade is a symbolic gesture. It cannot compensate for the danger veterans were exposed to or the time that they spent away from their families. Showering them with confetti is the least that should be done.

President Barack Obama certainly had the right idea by honoring veterans with a $1 billion job corps program that the White House says will provide jobs to 20,000 military personnel over the next five years on projects in national parks and on federal and state lands.

However, a parade is nonetheless a time-honored symbol that has represented the appreciation of a grateful nation-and it's one that should be accorded to these veterans.

Bloomberg, echoing advice he received from the Pentagon, said that the time is not right for such an honor. It should not take place, he reasoned, while the military is still engaged in combat in Afghanistan.

It is an unfortunate decision. Veterans groups have made clear that it's something they would appreciate, that it is an honor that would provide a dignified salute to their sacrifice. After all, New York City held a ticker tape parade for the veterans of the Gulf War in 1991.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, made the case clearly. "Everybody recognizes that the Giants deserve a parade," he said. "[However,] if a football team gets a parade, shouldn't our veterans?"

He is not alone. Many city officials have called on the mayor to do the honorable thing and allow a parade to take place, with the appropriate City Hall rally afterward. There is nothing premature about doing so now. When the conflict in Afghanistan finally ends, New York City should simply host another.

After all, would Bloomberg ever rule out a parade for say, the Yankees, should they win the next World Series simply because the Giants were in the middle of what looked like another winning season? There should be a ticker tape parade-and it should be done soon. After all, who better to parade up the Canyon of Heroes than returning war veterans? And what New Yorker doesn't appreciate a good celebration?