Lawrence Veterans Day Parade
Byline: Corey Ball, Commander, Dorsey-Liberty Post 14 American Legion and
Senior Chief Petty Officer Don Weis, United States Navy (retired)
Ninety-nine years ago in Europe, the guns fell silent and World War One was over. Ninety-one years ago the Haskell Arch was dedicated as the first tribal memorial in honor of the 415 Haskell students who served in World War I. In 1938, Congress passed a bill that became a law designating November 11th each year as a legal holiday. Accordingly, November 11th is “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.” In 1954, Congressman Edward H. Rees of Emporia introduced a bill resulting in a law signed by President Eisenhower “to honor veterans on the 11th day of November of each year.” Lawrence celebrated veterans with public ceremonies and a parade until 1968 and then a forty-nine year gap occurred.
Those veterans with service time in that period largely concealed their angst about this lack of community support but raised the issue in therapy groups conducted by licensed professionals of the Veterans Administration. One of those therapists, Saundra Wisdom, raised the issue with her friend Kim Murphree. These two selfless citizens championed the effort to produce the Lawrence Veterans Day Parade on Saturday November 11, 2017. To bring this event back to life, volunteers donated hundreds of hours of their time, including many members of American Legion Post 14. Both of our Lawrence universities, Haskell Indian Nations University and KU, honored us with parade participation. In particular, the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, Lawrence ACTION Civitan Club, and Lawrence Branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers AFL-CIO were standout contributors.
Downtown Lawrence businesses agreed to the inconvenience of the parade staging and procession. Other local businesses learned of the event and contributed needed equipment and supplies. Local benefactors offered financial support. That generosity covered all parade expenses not provided in-kind. The Parade Planning Committee is proud to provide a substantial donation to a local veteran in need who is surmounting the challenges remaining to re-enter civilian society. Another benefactor will donate to the Salvation Army for homelessness prevention and other veterans assistance programs in Douglas County in honor of the Lawrence Veterans Day Parade.
Local media staff members did the parade a great service with publicity and ensured detailed event coverage. Hank Booth and Jay Wachs were our enthusiastic parade day announcers despite the drizzle! Thank you KANU, KLWN, Great Plains Media Group, Printing Solutions, Red Design, Lawrencehits.com, University Daily Kansan, and the Lawrence Journal-World who corroborated our research of the parade gap since 1968 that has now been emphatically closed.
There were many positive emotional events of Veterans Day this year but you can be sure every veteran who enjoyed the love of the parade attendees and the fellowship of their fellow veterans kept their friends who didn’t come home from combat in their thoughts. One gentleman who served in the United States Merchant Marine wished to walk alone in the parade. The Merchant Marine suffered from grim predation of German U-Boat submarine attacks on their convoys crossing the North Atlantic and from hostile naval combatants elsewhere on the high seas. The Merchant Marines’ casualty rate (killed, wounded, missing, and prisoner of war) exceeded that of any of the Armed Services during World War Two. Despite this record of combat service, the federal government did not recognize the mariners of the Merchant Marine as veterans until 1988! Veteran parade participants told parade well-wishers that the weather wasn’t that bad—they had seen much worse. Indeed. In the case of Lawrence’s brave mariner of the Merchant Marine this was particularly true.
Many people were instrumental in the success of the parade, including other contributors not already mentioned. Active duty, Reserve and National Guard troops provided military vehicles and music that greatly enhanced the parade. We offer special thanks and deepest respect to Erv Hodges, our Grand Marshall. Thanks to our County Commission and City Commission for formal Proclamations in support of the event. Thanks to the Lawrence police officers who kept us safe from traffic problems and to the firefighter parade participants who remained ready for emergency call throughout the parade. Thanks to the patience and helpful attitude of Mark Thiel of our Lawrence Public Works Department. Finally, thanks to the American Legion Post 14 Honor Guard who led the parade. We hope to see more of you when we lead the 2018 Veterans Day Parade next year!