The History of Military Parades in Washington DC – Part 1

Being the nation’s capital, Washington DC has had its fair share of military parades. As the seat of power, it is up to Washington to dispatch its nation’s troops to battle and, as such, Washington is there to welcome them home. But unlike some nations of the world, America does not flex its military muscle outside wartime.

Times have changed with the incumbent president, and he has instructed his chiefs of staff to review possible dates for a parade on the scale of, say, the parade in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day. Whether this is a correct decision or not in peacetime – that is not what is being discussed in this blog. We will focus on some of the biggest and best military parades that Washington has ever seen.

1991 – Persian Gulf War

The most recent military parade was in 1991 when more than eight thousand troops marched down Constitution Avenue to celebrate the end of the war in the Persian Gulf. It was an elaborate affair with tanks and stealth fighters overhead and an estimated two hundred thousand spectators lining the route. The crowd was a fifth of what was expected, possibly because of political reasons, as many people thought it was a campaign stunt for the Bush administration. But by the time of the great fireworks display in the evening, almost eight hundred thousand people had hit the streets.

This was the biggest military celebration in the U.S since WWII, and it is not coincidental that on both occasions America was victorious. When the result is not so clear cut, such as in the Vietnam or Korea conflicts, no parades have taken place.

The Cold War

All this having been said, during the Cold War, military parades were not unknown. The Soviet Union loved showing off their military might at every opportunity and during this high stake political game of chess, America had to show their response. 1961 was the opportunity, it was the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Washington duly hosted a parade of American military strength featuring many high-tech missiles and boats, together with marching sailors and soldiers.

A Soviet SS-21 tactical short-range nuclear missile is shown for the first time in Red Square, at the Victory Day parade in Moscow, Russia on May 9, 1

In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugural parade included a canon that was capable of delivering a nuclear bomb. Some spectators at the time remarked that it was the most elaborate inaugural celebration of all time, even though it carried with it the warning of a very big stick to the Soviets.


The times of the Second World War were very emotive, people just could not believe that the world had allowed itself to get into such a situation after the Great War, which was supposed to have been the war to end all wars. As the battle raged in the Pacific and Europe in 1942, more than thirty thousand troops marched down New York’s Fifth Avenue in celebration of the Army Day Parade.

And the press at the time heralded it as The First Big Military Display of the War. After America and her allies were triumphant, parades were held in every major city in the U.S. We continue our history of military parades in part two of the history of military parades in Washington DC.

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