WASHINGTON -- Though she grew up in Glen Burnie, it was to be her first trip ever to Washington, and she was coming for the most exciting reason: to watch proudly as her U.S. Marine Corps husband paraded victoriously down Constitution Avenue before God, the president and the whole nation.
But unlike the other spouses, Alice Brass could not wholly give herself over to exhilaration. If she hadn't understood that beforehand, she certainly knew it when she saw the Bradley tank rolling toward her.
She began to cry.
FTC "That was the tank we were told Ronny was in when he got killed," Mrs. Brass, 19, said later.
Ronny -- Army Staff Sgt. Ronald M. Randazzo of the 1st Cavalry Division -- was Mrs. Brass' big brother. He was also one of seven Marylanders to die during the Persian Gulf war. So if yesterday's National Victory Parade was a celebration of the safe homecoming of her husband, Marine Cpl. John Brass, it was also a tearful reminder to Mrs. Brass that she is one of the few Americans who did not escape the war without grief.
Despite the sadness, Mrs. Brass said she never hesitated about coming to the parade after learning that her husband would be a participant.
"When he came home, I was nine months pregnant and could hardly move, let alone go to any homecoming celebrations for him," she said. "Coming here today was my way of saying to him, 'Welcome home.' "
When she saw her husband marching, tall and erect and in his camouflage uniform, "I started screaming and cheering," she said. "I was more proud than anything. That's about when I went hoarse."
It was at their wedding last summer that she last saw Ronny, one of her five older brothers. Little more than a month later, he phoned her to tell her he was shipping out for the Persian Gulf. That same day, she learned that her husband also was leaving for the gulf in three days and that she was pregnant.
L "It was good news and it was bad news," Corporal Brass said.
With the tension of having a husband and a brother in a war, it was to be a rough pregnancy. She learned of Ronny's death in an Iraqi attack on his tank near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border Feb. 20. Suddenly, she felt terrible pains in her stomach and was taken to a hospital where doctors worried that she would deliver prematurely. She didn't, but the rest of her pregnancy continued to be uncomfortable and stressful.
Corporal Brass, 23, who also grew up in Glen Burnie, was sent home in March to be with his wife and was there May 2 when Leona was born.
That day, he said, and the day of his wedding were the happiest of his life. Yesterday ranked a close third.
As he marched yesterday, he and other soldiers marveled at the size and enthusiasm of the crowd. "We couldn't believe it, all the people, the cheering and salutes," he said. "Guys were getting choked up, and some of them were crying. I came close.
"People were saying to us, 'Thank you,' and we were saying, 'No, thank you. Thank you for coming out and supporting us.' "
It was a thrill, he said, to see President Bush and military leaders in the reviewing stand, but that wasn't the high point. "To see the president, I was very happy, but to see all the Vietnam veterans and older veterans out there saluting me, that made me the happiest."
Mrs. Brass, too, found herself deeply moved. "The marching, all the shiny equipment and weaponry, the bands. It was a beautiful parade," she said.
A year ago, Mrs. Brass said, she couldn't have envisioned herself cheering so mightily for a military parade, even though her father and four of her brothers had served in the military. She said that it was her brother and his death that had changed her mind.
"He could have gotten out last year, but he decided that there were people who depended on him being over there," she said. " "He stayed because he believed in what he was doing, and that made me understand why we were there, too."