RALEIGH — Attendance at Raleighs Veterans Day parade on Saturday morning reflected a current trend in military enlistment: Only a tiny fraction of those who benefit from the presence of a national military showed up.
The U.S. Army could barely have fielded a battalion with the number of spectators who made their way to the sidewalks along Fayetteville Street or around the Capitol, where about 60 parade units marched in honor of those in uniform. Just after the last marching band had passed, most of the crowd dispersed and within minutes it was as if there had been no parade, just as to most of the population who will never have to fight it often seems as if there is no war.
Seemed kind of short, said Marvin Butch Smith, who drove up from Willow Spring to see the parade. Now retired, Smith was in the N.C. National Guard, a gunner, and said he went to Iraq with the 30th Brigade in 2004.
He likes looking at military equipment and was hoping to see more rolling stock in the parade. When it was over, he planned to walk up to the N.C. Museum of History to look at its weaponry collection.
Those who did attend were supportive. They put tiny American flags in their childrens hands to wave as the parade passed. They cheered the Sons of the American Revolution, they applauded Cub Scout Pack 75, they swayed to the patriotic tunes of the Enloe High School Marching Band.
Words of thanks for vets
A couple hundred stayed around for the program of speakers that included Gov. Bev. Perdue at the N.C. Veterans Monument, the grand crescent on the north side of the Capitol. The program started at 11 a.m., a nod to the signing of the armistice between Germany and the Allies that ended hostilities on the western front of World War I, at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
That was the Great War, to have been the last great war, Yet here we meet again, year after year, said Larry Stogner, WTVD news anchor and emcee of the program.
The speakers in the program took special note this year of those who served in Iraq.
Welcome home, they said to any of those veterans who might be in the crowd. Thank you for your service.
When the speakers finished, most of that crowd left, too, off to get lunch or get ready for the N.C. State football game or to go on a long bike ride on the warm autumn afternoon.
MIAs and POWs
About two dozen stayed for a brief ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where members of the N.C. Vietnam Veterans Inc. began gathering exactly 25 years ago to read the names of service members from the state who never came back from the war.
When they started, there were 65 names of those who had gone missing in action or were taken prisoner of war. With the repatriation and identification of remains over the past quarter century, the list is down to 41.
Ron Wagoner, who spent a year in Vietnam with the Armys 9th Infantry and is president of the group, said hes attended at least 18 Veterans Day parades in Raleigh. He thinks this years was actually the biggest turnout yet.
The people who do come are great, he said. You have no idea what its like to be there when people see you and say. Thank you, or come over and shake your hand.
Larry Rozier of Raleigh, who also served during the Vietnam War, shot pictures of the parade and the ceremonies as he does most years as state historian for the American Legion.
Itd be nice if there were bigger crowds, he said. But I guess people have other things to do.