New York City’s Veterans Day Parade, known as “America’s Parade,” is the perfect way to honor our servicemen and women; it’s the country’s largest event marking the November 11 holiday. Like most events in New York City, the parade has a history all its own, so 6sqft decided to explore that a bit further as our way of saying thank you to the brave veterans who have fought for our freedom.
Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton on Flickr
You may remember from history class the phrase, “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” That was the hour when a WWI cease-fire went into effect between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918, ending the “war to end all wars” on what came to be known as Armistice Day. Though the war officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, November 11 is when the bloodshed really stopped. So, in November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed this date the first commemoration of the end of the war. It wasn’t until 1938, however, that Veterans Day became a legal federal holiday.
The first parade in New York City to honor veterans marked the end of WWI. On September 10, 1919, the city held a march known as the Victory Parade to welcome home General John J. Pershing, the commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), along with 25,000 soldiers who served in the AEF. The members of the 1st Division, wearing trench helmets and full combat gear, marched down Fifth Avenue from 107th Street to Washington Square.
From then on, the American Legion continued to produce the parade annually, following the same route. In 1968, however, soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War realized they weren’t welcomed by their fellow veterans–mostly from WWII and the Korean War–or by the American public. In fact, the Home with Honor Parade that marched through Times Square in 1973 to welcome home Vietnam vets was barely acknowledged by any media in the country.
A Vietnam vet named Vince McGowan decided in 1986 to form his own organization where all veterans who served honorably would be accepted. He teamed up with a World War II vet and a Grenada vet and named the organization the United War Veterans Council. Just a year after the UWVC was formed, the American Legion announced that it would stop producing the New York City Veterans Day Parade. Many believe it had to do with the controversy surrounding the participation of gay veterans. So, the UWVC stepped in and took over the parade. It started small at first, but after several years, the crowds began to multiply, especially in 1995, which marked the 50th anniversary of WWII. McGowan, then the UWVC President, told Business Insider that following 9/11 the parade took on a new meaning.
Air National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy on Flickr
This year’s Veterans Day Parade begins at 12:30 p.m. on Friday and will travel up Fifth Avenue from 26th Street to 45th Street. Vince Patton, the first Black American to serve as a master chief petty officer of the U.S. Coast Guard, will be the parade’s grand marshall.
The parade will be broadcast live on ABC and streamed online at nycvetsday.org. For more details, visit the official website for America’s Parade.
Editor’s note: The original version of this article was published on November 11, 2015, and has since been updated.