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A blue and gold salute

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CLcarouselA gun fires. Harley engines rip. Police sirens scream. Snare drums strike up a cadence. Bagpipes drone to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” Amidst it all, there are cheers.

And there are tears.

Mary Ann D’Acquisto wiped the shine off her cheek as she waved a handful of American flags, signaling the start of Saturday’s Veterans Day Parade.

She hustled over to a car carrying the family of a soldier killed in action. She gave each of the children inside a flag.

“Come on kids, wave those flags,” she said. “Let ’em know you’re here. Let ’em know why you’re here.”

D’Acquisto is the president of The Veterans Day Parade of Milwaukee, Inc., the 100 percent volunteer nonprofit organization that puts on the parade. D’Acquisto’s organization revived the parade in 2001 after the City of Milwaukee canceled it in 2000 because of lack of public support.

“Nobody likes war,” D’Acquisto said. “But we have to take responsibility for the fact that these guys fought with a flag on their shoulder … these guys deserve one lousy day.”

More than 120 groups of veterans, supporters and families of troops actively serving overseas took two hours to parade from 4th Street and Kilbourn Avenue to Veterans Park on Lake Michigan. A row of onlookers consistently lined the route. Although parade-goers never had to elbow for a view, the clamor of cheers and whistles rang louder than the turnout.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett also turned out for the parade.

“People are very proud to be American and very supportive,” Barrett said prior to marching the 3-mile route.

“I’ll be walking behind (the veterans),” he said. “As I should be.”

Public support is crucial for veterans, said D’Acquisto, who is also a full-time VA nurse and has veteran family members. With care packages, letters and mantras of “support our troops,” community support is customary for service men and women overseas, she said.

“But then they come home and everyone forgets about it,” she said. “It’s a little easier if the community is supporting them.”

 

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Fred Broussard

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Fred Broussard rested his hands gently atop his wooden cane. He solemnly looked over Wells Street as the man next to him onstage announced parade participants through a loud speaker. Broussard earned his distinguished seat – he was taken prisoner of war by the Germans during World War II.

Until his capture in 1944, Broussard served in the 30th Infantry Division in Holland.

“My mother and father heard on the radio that I had been captured,” Broussard said. “That way they knew I was alive.”

Broussard said soldiers in the camp “hoped and hoped” for 11 months they could return home. But as for life in waiting: “It was terrible.”

If despair was biting, hunger bit harder.

“The bread was 25 percent sawdust,” Broussard said. Prisoners would fight over who got the largest piece.

When Broussard refused to disclose ally information, his captors handed him over to the British.

“The British burned every stitch of clothes I had,” he said. “They gave me a British uniform and flew me to England.”

From England, Broussard caught a boat to Boston where he met his wife, Mary. Broussard followed Mary back to her hometown of Milwaukee. Fifty-three years later, Mary has passed away. But Broussard said he remembers her as lovingly as ever. Clutching his cane with his left hand and raising his withered hand to his brow in salute, he remembers Milwaukee’s fallen soldiers, too.

Ashanti Mandinga

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The Army recruited Ashanti Mandinga right out of high school. His family didn’t have any money for college, but that didn’t stop him. Mandinga earned a GED during his service in Germany from 1956 to 1963. He now studies political science and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He’s a poet, he said. Other pieces in the works are a play about homelessness and a detective novel. “It’s a blessing to see so many vets still alive,” he said. But Mandinga could only salute his fellow veterans for a few moments. He was on his way to an exam at UW-Milwaukee.

DMZ Motorcycle Club

DSC_0168Harley engines thundered at the beginning of the parade as members of the DMZ Motorcycle Club led the way to Veterans Park. A group of leather-clad Harley riders stayed to watch the tail end of the parade march down Lincoln Memorial Drive.

About 45 percent of Harley riders are veterans, according to Mary Ann D’Acquisto, president of the parade.

“We help our brothers and sisters out,” said Sean McCurdy, a rider whose most recent tours included Turkey and Egypt for Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 128th Air Refueling.

Both veterans and non-veterans make up the club, based out of Waterford, Wis. Tom Doyle is not a member of the armed services, but said it was an honor to show his support by riding in the parade.

“(Veterans) give everything so we can sit here and enjoy our freedom,” he said.

Doyle said Harley riding, similar to serving, is like a brotherhood.

“It’s the same kind of free spirit,” Doyle said. “It’s a camaraderie second to none.”

Aaron Spinosa

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Instead of transporting troops and supplies, Aaron Spinosa toted children around in the back of his humvee. The specialist of the 108th Forward Support Company of Sussex, Wis., carried winners of the Veteran’s Day Parade essay contest. The children wrote essays about the life of a veteran they interviewed. The vets also rode in the humvee. Spinosa said stories he shared with veterans were very similar. From traumas to equipment, they can relate.

“It makes you feel like you’re part of something good,” Spinosa said. “It lets you see how people appreciate what you do.”

Louis Adams

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Louis Adams carried out two tours of Korea as an infantry ranger in the Army Airborne Rangers. He now volunteers at the Red Cross and wished to show his support for his brothers and sisters. “It can be sorrow,” Adams said. “It can be invigorating. It gives you a chance to appreciate what you’ve done.”

The community response to the event depends on how many people show up, he said. “People like me and others made this possible. It didn’t just happen.”

 

Jack Johnson

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As the Oostburg High School band marched down Wells Street, 2-year-old Jack Johnson lifted his feet in step. While Jack merrily waved his flag at passers-by, grandfather John Johnson looked out stoically. Johnson served from Spain to California in the Air Force and is now a member of the American Legion of Bayfield, a veterans service organization. He could only say the event was “overwhelming.”


 

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “A blue and gold salute”

  1. Quiet Eagle, on November 13th, 2009 2:11 pm

    Just a small correction, on the article for Veteran’s day, by Sarah.
    The picture is of the DMZ motorcycle club, Waterford, Wisconsin. Not the Legion Riders.
    Thanks Quiet Eagle

  2. Ewa Szczepińska on November 17th, 2009 2:04 pm

    Pozdrowienia i gratulacje dla mojej kuzynki za zorganizowanie wspaniałej parady.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.