WASHINGTON - And you thought the war was over!
Not only have organizers of the National Victory Celebration fought nearly every corner of bureaucracy to pull off tomorrow's gold-plated extravaganza to honor the Desert Storm troops, but they have also been engaging in light combat with their New York neighbors whose own parade is scheduled for two days later.
"They have accountants marching in their parade!" quips Harry N. Walters, president of the foundation set up to run Washington's homecoming festivities and a former administrator of veterans affairs.
The Washington parade, he says, is strictly a military affair - "to celebrate those who came home well and memorialize those who didn't."
Led by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, about 8,800 troops - including the 1st U.S. Army from Fort Meade and the 776th Airbase Wing and 459th Military Airlift Wing from Andrews Air Force Base - will march down Constitution Avenue and across Arlington Memorial Bridge. Joining them will be the 1st U.S. Army Band from Fort Meade and 11 other military bands, a USO float featuring boxing champ Tommy Hearns and Miss U.S.A., and 31 war machines such as M-1 tanks, Humvees, rocket launchers and the famed Patriot missile. More than 80 warplanes will fly by, 500 feet above the crowd, at various intervals.
The two-mile march - the centerpiece of the day of festivities moved up from July 4th to accommodate Congress, which would be in recess then ' is being touted as the largest military victory parade since World War II. Along with a sprinkling of anti-war protesters, it's expected to draw anywhere from 600,000 to 1.5 million spectators.
"New York can have their parade," says Mr. Walters, president and CEO of Great Lakes Carbon Corp. "They have a parade at the drop of a hat. We're going to have the best parade!"
Organizers of New York's Operation Welcome Home have tossed back a few of their own rockets, countering that no one can shower heroes with affection and enthusiasm - and paper -like New York. With its 12,000 Desert Storm veterans (also led by General Schwarzkopf), 500 marching units, 1 million yellow ribbons and 6,000 tons of "ticker tape" (confetti really, with only a token amount of Wall Street's outmoded paper ribbon imported for the occasion), New York parade planners promise "the greatest ticker tape parade in history."
Indeed, the superlatives - and insults - have been flying faster than the Stealth fighter that's set to soar over Washington tomorrow to kick off the parade, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"New York's version of a flyby is the Trump shuttle over the Meadowlands," jabs Carol McCain, director of media relations for the D.C. bash.
Washington's version, with its Blackhawks, Apache helicopter, F-14s, -15s and -16s, and a B-52, will be supplemented by a
display on the National Mall of helicopters, fighter planes, and other war equipment.
The Desert Storm Homecoming Foundation, an organization of veterans groups including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans, raised about $4 million cash and about $1 million in goods and services for the celebration. The day includes a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery by President Bush, a picnic for 22,000 parade participants and their families, a USO show with singer Barbara Mandrell and the largest fireworks display ever seen in Washington.
COMSAT Corp. and AT&T;, the two largest donors, contributed $500,000 each, with other large endowments coming from the governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, General Electric, Coca-Cola and defense contractors such as Textron Inc. and Raytheon.
In addition, taxpayers will be footing a $5 million to $7 million bill for the transport of troops and hardware, as well as meals and housing for troops, according to a Defense Department source.
As workers fitted the $400,000 reviewing stand for Mr. Bush and 250 dignitaries with bulletproof glass and telephone lines this week, voices of protest and criticism could also be heard around the city.
"I'm totally outraged and opposed to it all," says Lisa Fithian, coordinator of the Washington Peace Center. "The fact that taxpayer dollars are being used for this and they're running roughshod all over the city! If we're honoring the troops, why do we need to have all this hardware and risk damaging the streets and Metro tunnels? We think it's to glorify and promote the military rather than to honor the troops."
Mr. Walters argues that "the American people paid for that equipment - they have a right to see it and understand."
Still, one anti-war group, calling itself Desert Flower Network, has planned a protest rally tomorrow in Lafayette Park as well as non-violent civil disobedience along the parade route and a silent vigil around the display of equipment.
Families of those killed on Pan Am Flight 103, the jet believed to have been blown up by Syrian terrorists, are protesting, as are U.S. senators, the inclusion of the Syrian flag in the parade here. (In New York, Syrian diplomats agreed to withdraw from the parade.)
And everyday citizens seem divided over the multimillion-dollar celebration, many applauding the effort as a well-deserved thank-you to the troops, others offended by the heroic display of militarism, the extraordinary cost of the affair and its colossal scope in light of the brevity of the war itself.
And there have been other cries of dissent - or at least concern - on the road to the parade.
The National Park Service, on whose land much of the celebration takes place, worried that 60-ton tanks would rip up the grass and damage the sprinkler heads on the Mall, not to mention their fears about having M-1s (for which even morning rush hour is no match) rolling across Memorial Bridge, which has never been traversed by tanks.
Federal Highway Administration engineer Donald Miller assured the Park Service and parade planners that, at speeds of 30 mph or less and no less than two feet from the curb, one tank at a time could negotiate the bridge with no damage.
Metrorail officials, too, fretted about such heavy vehicles moving over delicate subway tunnels and stations on their way into the city. And, in fact, the hardware has to be routed around any subway areas, and also away from Washington's many tunnels.
"It's a nightmare," says Harold Nutt, manager of government traffic for CSX Transportation Inc., which is responsible for getting the military equipment from Fort Stewart in Georgia and from Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to downtown Washington.
The District of Columbia's electric and phone companies feared that their lines would be disrupted by the height of the mammoth war machinery moving through the streets. Some street lights have to be taken down to make way for the giant Patriot.
And although it agreed to do so, the Federal Aviation Administration balked at having to shut down flights at National Airport for as much as 1 1/2 hours while fighter planes take over the skies.
"They close for a little bit of thunderstorm longer than that," argues Mr. Walters.
Of the many obstacles, he adds, "We were given a million reasons why we wouldn't be able to do this. They all proved not to be problems."
The only true problem, of course, could be the weather. But Mr. Walters is confident he's even got that under control. "It's going to be a beautiful day. I've had the chaplains at the Veterans Administration working on it."
Traffic changes for parade
Beginning at 6 a.m. tomorrow, Constitution Avenue from Sixth to 17th streets NW will close because of the parade.
Pedestrian traffic across Constitution Avenue will be permitted until 10:30 a.m. The road is expected to open again at 3 p.m.
From 7 p.m. today until 6 a.m. Monday, 17th Street between Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue will also be closed.
All trips on the Metro subway system, which runs from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. tomorrow, will cost only $1.
Parking near the parade route will be prohibited.
Other roads closed at 6 a.m.:
* All streets on the Mall from Third to 14th streets and from Constitution Avenue to Independence Avenue.
* Roads leading into and around the Ellipse.
* E Street between 15th and 17th streets NW.
Roads closed at 9 a.m.:
* The 9th, 12th and 14th street crossovers.
* 15th Street between Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue.
Roads closed at 9:30 a.m.:
* Constitution Avenue from 15th to 23rd streets NW along with the Lincoln Memorial Circle.
* Memorial Bridge.
* Ramps to Memorial Avenue from George Washington Memorial Parkway and Route 110.
* Northbound George Washington Memorial Parkway at Route 50, between Washington Boulevard and Memorial Circle to Route 50 ramp.
* Southbound Rock Creek Parkway from Virginia Avenue to Lincoln Memorial.
* Washington Boulevard in Arlington.
* Ohio Drive at Rock Creek Parkway will be rerouted to E Street NW.
At 8:45 p.m., the fireworks display will close Independenc Avenue from 15th to 23rd streets SW, along with Maine Avenue between 15th Street and Independence Avenue.
Beginning at 9 p.m., the fireworks display will also close H Street, from North Capitol Street to Third Street NE, and First Street NE, from K Street to Massachusetts Avenue NE.
National Victory Celebration
* 9-10 a.m.: Wreath-laying and memorial service, Arlington National Cemetery. Gates open at 7 a.m. and close at 8:30 a.m. A limited number of seats will be available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.
* 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.: National Victory Parade with battle streameceremony. Starts at Seventh and Constitution, passes Lincoln Memorial and concludes at Pentagon north parking lot. Most of the parade route will allow for curbside viewing by the public. No special ticket is required.
C-SPAN will air the entire parade beginning at 11 a.m. CNN will begin coverage shortly before noon, with occasional interruptions for news updates and feature stories.
* 2-6 p.m.: All-American Picnic, the Ellipse. For U.S. military personnel participating in the parade and their families. This is the only event not open to the public.
* 7-9 p.m.: USO show, grounds of the Washington Monument.
* 9:15 p.m.: Fireworks, the National Mall.
Tomorrow and Sunday:
* 8 a.m.-8 p.m.: Display of military equipment used in the Persian Gulf war, the Mall.
For more information, call (202) 347-9155.