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Page 9
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The Horribles Parade

By Marc Levy

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July 4, 2003. We are in the Gloucester, Massachusetts parade today. An unusual twelve-person contingent in a sea of patriotic gore. Hundreds of small, rippling American flags are waved by throngs of hardworking blue-collar residents joined by an endless stream of gaggling tourists. The beery, swaying crowds swell with pride and puffed-up courage. How many have seen real combat?

Every so often as we march down the boulevard, John, our fearless leader (who resigned his Marine Corps commission in '66), dispenses the peace sign with beatific calm. I stand on the right side of the VETERANS FOR PEACE banner we carry. Behind us, Paul, in real life an academic with high credentials, is dressed up as Ben Franklin and rings a stern bell, while behind him two VFP members grip an American flag burnished with the slogan REPEAL THE PATRIOT ACT. And behind them other people carry rigid signs stating all the losses gained since Lord Ashcroft usurped the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We walk slow and solemn like witches resurrected to remind the innocent of their dead.

From time to time someone in the passing crowd calls my name. There's Maureen from the housing authority, who gave me grief until I withdrew the application. There's Willy, a local rock musician heard on the radio twice in one hour. There's Sammy, another First Cav medic, also shocked out; his eyebrows arc from his head as he waves hello. There's my good pal the town vets' representative who dutifully salutes, pledges, and leads prayer at DAV meetings we both enjoy but who must certainly know what's going down. (He hoists a merry beer in our direction as we pass by.) There's Lee, on the national board of Veterans For Peace, hanging out with his kids, his big red truck parked in a lot. Someone yells, "Hey, First Cav!" I'm wearing a fatigue shirt with a big Cav patch and a Combat Medic badge.

There are faces and more faces as we march down Gloucester's hot, winding streets. Almost everyone is happy. Almost everyone is cheering, though there are a few whiners along the way. They scowl at our ACLU emblems, at the message we carry. But we are veterans. We are the real deal. We are Johnny Got His Gun. We are Johnny Appleseeds planting truth, uprooting lies — and they know it.

On and on we march. Behind and way up front are brass bands, calypso bands, rock bands, strutting boy scout troops, convoys of waxy vintage cars, young nubile beauty queens, high-handed politicos who polish air with well-greased palms. There are civil war reenactors with fake muskets; a team of sweaty horses who drop occasional loads of patriotic poo. "Watch out! Watch out!" an elderly woman screams as we near a clump.

For three solid miles we march in step behind a jolly float sponsoring the Armed Forces. The float is slow and cumbersome and plays sentimental music that the cheering crowds adore. They love the big color photos of flags and soldiers and swooping jets going round and round on a makeshift carousel. They gush and chant America! America! America! — not knowing we are next in line. And when they see us marching silent and erect they are momentarily dumbstruck. It is clear that deep, deep in the landscape of their beer-swept American psyches they too know something is not right. And they know that we know, and the irony makes us big.

The parade finishes at eight, and we are thirsty and tired after two hours of marching. It is time for food. It is time to relax. We have done our share and then some. The next day we learn that Veterans For Peace, with its dimestore placards made from string and sticks, was awarded third place for civic pride. It gives one hope that Mr. Ashcroft and his surly camp will soon be repealed. U.S. OUT OF AMERICA! Hip, hip. U.S. OUT OF THE USA!

Marc Levy is a Vietnam vet and a member of VVAW from Massachusetts.

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