Tuesday, in the Canyon of Heroes, the Giants retook their rightful spot as champions. They’re not the only champions of New York, though — and I’m not talking about the Yankees.
Iraq veterans deserve their own ticker-tape parade, after eight years of service and sacrifices. More than a million served, and 4,400 of them fell there and didn’t come home. But Mayor Bloomberg says a parade honoring them is “premature.”
Later this month, President Obama will host a dinner for 200 Iraq vets and their families. It’s a decent idea, but what about the other 999,800?
It’s simple: The ticker-tape parade down Broadway is an American tradition as old as the Statue of Liberty.
Our Iraq veterans, after bearing the burden of an entire nation for so long by themselves, deserve far more than a parade, especially as they return home to record unemployment and a troubling rise in suicides in the military and veteran community.
But a parade would be a good start and a symbol of a grateful country, no matter citizens’ politics. It shows vets that we care and that we are here to support them.
Yes, we still have service members fighting in Afghanistan. When they complete the mission there, they’ll get their own parade. But this isn’t about separating the two wars that were largely fought by the same men and women. It’s about bringing together veterans and civilians alike to forge a stronger future for America on the backs and brains of our new Greatest Generation.
An exclusive dinner for 200 at the White House can’t do that, no matter how well-intentioned.
America has hosted a ticker-tape parade after every war of the last century. But to date only St. Louis has held a “Welcome Home Our Heroes” parade for those who served in Iraq — and solely because two guys launched a Facebook page and motivated a grassroots group of citizens. In less than a week, it morphed into an incredibly inspiring event.
That action definitely lit a spark. Ever since, the offices of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have been inundated with notes and e-mails from folks from San Francisco to Portland, Me., who want to do the same thing for the Iraq veterans in their communities. New York City needs to lead this charge.
Bloomberg said on “Meet the Press” last weekend that the city is following the Pentagon’s lead on this. Since when does City Hall wait on Washington? New York has a long, proud tradition of leading from the front and doing the right thing, regardless of what other cities are doing. That’s what needs to happen now.
Folks ranging from former Mayor Ed Koch to City Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island) support this. If the Super Bowl Champion Giants can get a parade through the Canyon of Heroes, so, too, should our Iraq vets.
As for the rest of the country: Sign the petition to the president and mayors nationwide at iava.org calling for a national day to honor and celebrate the service of some real heroes — the more than 1 million veterans who have served our country in Iraq.
Paul Rieckhoff is the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the author of “Chasing Ghosts.”
This opinion piece originally appeared in the New York Post. For more information, click here.