The History of Military Parades in Washington DC – Part 2

The second part of our blog highlighting the military parades in Washington and other U.S cities follows the celebrations of the presidential inaugural marches of Kennedy and Eisenhower. But this blog goes back in time to the early days of celebrating the American presidency. It was once common practice in the U.S for the president to review a military parade on Independence Day, the 4th of July. The history books tell us that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, James Polk and Martin Van Buren all were in attendance for 4th of July military parade.

This all ended with President Polk, as his successor Zachary Taylor refused to attend a parade. He just went to the Washington Monument and bizarrely took ill after devouring a bowl of cherries and milk, two days later he took ill and died.

The Civil War Parade 1865

Supposedly, one of the most impressive military displays in the history of the U.S was in 1865 and it was the Grand Review of the Armies. When Andrew Johnson declared the American Civil War officially over, press at the time quoted: the event, huge in scale and pageantry, generated a near-carnival atmosphere. There has been some concern that the current president, Donald Trump, has his own agenda for wanting to revive the tradition of military parades. Regarding the proposed 4th of July parade, a big worry is that it is to compete with other countries’ military might parades and show America’s military strength. It looks as though, if that is its purpose, it may signal a return to Cold War days.

Parade of the First Division

On the 17th September 1919, there was one of the biggest military parades in Washington to celebrate the ending of the First World War. General Pershing was at the head of twenty four thousand veterans of the conflict, including wounded soldiers that joined the parade by ambulances. It was the first military parade in Washington that actually featured women, as Army nurses took place in the parade. All the military equipment that was used in France was on display, even the mobile laundry vehicles were there.

Nearly half a million people were on the streets of Washington to cheer on the returning troops, and the Washington Post printed a comment from a veteran saying: Did you ever see anything that could beat that? It’s like sunshine after the rain. That’s the man for you, the man who can smile and fight, too, referring to General John J Pershing.

A temporary Arc de Triomphe was erected in Washington so the troops could march through, giving honor to their French counterparts. Other interesting facts are that each enlisted man received $60 dollars bonus, over one hundred bouquets of flowers were donated by Washington florists but could not be thrown on the parade, as during an earlier parade General Pershing’s horse slipped on some petals.

Washington is the ideal home for American military parades, it is right and proper that the city which is the seat of power welcomes home its war heroes. Everything about Washington cries out America, as it has seen and been part of the American history since its very first inception.

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