NEW YORK — Tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans today formed the biggest parade in the city's history, marching across the Brooklyn Bridge and down Broadway in a lavish ticker-tape "welcome home" that was 10 years late.
Tons of ticker tape and confetti, obliterating street signs in a blizzard of white, showered down on the 25,000 veterans as they wound through the financial district at the lower tip of Manhattan.
Most of the veterans were dressed in remnants of their uniforms--many of them in jungle fatigues, and many wearing ribbons and medals. Some assembled with their former units, and there were cries of recognition and embraces, and exchanges of photographs and old jokes.
Mayor Edward I. Koch, who established the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission that organized the parade, led the march by pushing the wheelchair of John Beehon, a Medal of Honor winner who lost both legs in Vietnam in 1966. Also at the head of the march was Gen. William Westmoreland, who was commander of American forces in Vietnam.
Nineteen Medal of Honor winners participated in the parade, which had the largest number of marchers ever to take part in a Manhattan parade.
A New York City fire truck met the parade at Broadway and Chambers Street, the beginning of the same route that Charles A. Lindbergh, astronauts, Presidents and soldiers of other wars have been honored on.
The biggest hand was reserved for a platoon of handicapped veterans who joined the march on the Manhattan side of the bridge.
Before the parade began, a 38-year-old veteran from Long Island sat on the pavement holding a cane and waiting to join in the march.
The veteran, who only gave his name as Don, said, "It's our parade. We waited a long time. When I came home, people booed. It's nice not to be booed." He said he served in Vietnam in 1968-69, suffered a foot wound and was contaminated by Agent Orange.
"This is great," said Walter Cooper of the 25th Infantry Division, stationed in 1970 at Bien Hua. "It's about time. But it's 10 years too late."