This past Saturday, my husband and I took the kids downtown to see the annual St Louis Veteran's Day Parade and ceremony. We arrived just as things were getting started, and were surprised that we were able to park less than a full city block from the event. As we walked toward Soldiers Memorial, we saw drill teams straightening their uniforms. We saw older gentlemen wearing hats that identified them to certain military units, naval ships/submarines or battles. We saw people wearing gold stars denoting a family member killed in action. What we didn't see were fellow spectators.
We made our way into the museum, and in rooms that should have been lined wall-to-wall with Americans paying their respects, we were able to move freely - we even had to caution the children more than once not to run, though they easily had room to do so. My nine-year-old was fascinated by the torpedo models and the large caliber bullets on display. His eyes grew to saucer-size as I explained to him what a depth charge was designed to do, and he exclaimed, "I saw those in Finding Nemo" when we came to the nautical mine. When we passed the current Army uniform hanging in the case, my three-year-old pointed and said, "That's what Mommy weared at the hoppable!" (I was stationed at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.)
The ceremonies began shortly after we arrived, and we stood on the street while the St Louis Women's American Legion Post gave a tribute to POW/MIA/KIA's. I was holding it together until they played Taps, and I was suddenly reminded again why I had made it a point to be inside at 9pm when I lived on base. The tears threatened again when they played God Bless America, and I was secretly grateful that we had been in the bathroom (thanks to tiny five-year-old-bladders and a surprise baby tooth falling out in a donut) when they had played the National Anthem.
By the time the parade began, there were maybe 100-150 people gathered along the visible parade route. As the parade began, they were cheering and waving flags. It became unfortunately clear within the first ten minutes that there were more people actually *in* the parade than watching it. If you had removed those spectators who were themselves veterans and left only those who came to support them, the audience would have been barely noticeable.
It made me sad to think that in the face of fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much, the average American can't be bothered to spend one Saturday morning dedicating their time to the honor of those who have served. Saturday morning was a sad referendum on the priorities of the American citizen.
My husband said it best: "If Americans had their priorities straight, there would have been more people at that parade than there were in St. Louis last week for game 7 of the World Series."