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Eric Thomas: Parade For Heroes

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 07: Eli Manning #10 (L) of the New York Giants speaks to fans as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looks on at a rally to celebrate the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory at MetLife Stadium on February 7, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – FEBRUARY 07: Eli Manning #10 (L) of the New York Giants speaks to fans as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looks on at a rally to celebrate the New York Giants’ Super Bowl victory at MetLife Stadium on February 7, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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New York City was partially shut down for a parade honoring the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. It was a ticker tape affair with all the members of the 2011 team. There’s Mario Manningham and Justin Tuck. There’s Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, the man of the hour. An estimated million visitors crowded the streets before shouldering into City Hall Plaza, making whooping sounds and clapping gloved hands together. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg even asked the assembled revelers “Are you feeling déjà blue all over again?” in an attempt to convince them he is a sports fan. The Associated Press reported that a 28 year old fan exclaimed to Eli: “People thought he would crumble under pressure but he didn’t! He’s the best!”

 

He sure is. So marches on the long tradition of New York City honoring returning heroes. The parade tradition started in 1919 with a parade that marked the end of World War One. I found this piece of information in the AP article and it stuck in my craw.

 

Of the estimated million people who shuffled along the parade route, I wonder how many were Iraq war veterans? How many people who felt the sting of bullets and heat from IEDs bellied up to the rope line and were kept a safe distance from millionaires who play a game for a living?

 

Sure, Eli Manning is a hero but has he ever crawled in the sand to avoid a bullet from a sniper? Has Justin Tuck had breakfast with a friend only to see him lay slain in the street by lunchtime? Has Mario Manningham ever had to live in constant fear that any child or woman he encounters may be strapped with explosives? Has any Giants player seen a man shot and have the same man then scream to finish the job to avoid lifelong paralysis?

 

Do not take my questions the wrong way. The Giants deserved that parade and it should have happened. But if heroes of America’s favorite sport deserve ticker tape congratulations, why has no such courtesy been extended to Americans who served in her second longest war? The last remaining combat troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011, yet there have been no plans for any kind of recognition.

Mayor Bloomberg’s office has dismissed any question of a parade for veterans pointing out that combat troops remain in theater in Afghanistan. Hogwash. Suggestions that troops in Afghanistan would be too emotionally anguished by a celebration for Iraq war veterans should be held up for ridicule. If anything, we should do it for them as a reminder that they will have the same party waiting for them. That’s like suggesting I should attend no one’s’ wedding because it’s a reminder that I have not gotten married.

 

Over a million Americans served time in Iraq. 4,487 are dead. 32,226 lost limbs, senses and skin. The Giants have a total roster of 53 people. The average salary of a soldier stationed in Iraq is $38,000. The median salary for NFL players is $770,000 a year. People might counter this by saying the military is all volunteer. So is playing for the New York Giants.

 

I will type this point twice so that I can be perfectly clear; I am not against parades for NFL teams. If the Lions ever win it I will camp out in a tent the night before. I just find it odd that there are no plans for a parade to honor returning Iraq war veterans and the one for the Giants materialized in two days. Ticker tape parades were invented for armies returning home from the battlefield. When and why did this change?

 

I understand that people have serious misgivings about that war but none of those arguments matter. The parade would be for the veterans. In honoring them we also honor the 4,487 that will not be among them. The country at times acts ashamed of the war and our military has been clouted away like an unwanted child from a marriage we would rather forget. This tendency to err on the side of denial is wrong. That’s not an opinion to be debated, that’s a fact.

 

There should be a ticker tape parade down the middle of every major city of every state in America. If one of your friends says it’s too expensive you should spit at them. You don’t go out to dinner unless you have money to tip the wait staff.

We should honor the military heroes the same way we honor the sports ones. I simply do not understand any counter-argument to that.

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