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D.C. tourists in awe of gulf war weaponry

Tourists by the thousands crowded Washington's grassy Mall on Friday, a day before the big victory parade, to gawk at the military might arrayed there. Even President Bush stopped by, briefly, and declared: "This is good for America." It also is expensive for America. Costs for the celebration have risen to the $12-million range, with the Pentagon spending $5-million to $7-million.

For Friday's huge crowd on the mall, the 1{-mile-long open space between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, the cost was the last thing to ponder. People lined up to stand on a tank, or to climb into a Sea Knight helicopter to get the feel of the controls.

At noon, there were as many bureaucrats wearing suits and ties in the waiting lines as there were families in shorts and T-shirts.

All this was a prelude to today, when 8,000 men and women who served in the Persian Gulf War will parade down Constitution Avenue behind their commander, Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. More than 100 military aircraft will zoom over them.

The day begins with a wreath-laying by Bush at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

The day, however, belongs to the troops and their families. For them there is a giant picnic on the ellipse behind the White House. In early evening there will be a USO show on the Washington Monument grounds and that Washington specialty, a fireworks display near the monument.

The Mall was like a giant fair on Friday.

A Harrier jet, which can take off and land vertically, and a formation of helicopters arrived under their own steam. Two amphibious assault vehicles swam up the Potomac, lumbered ashore, and drove a few blocks to the Mall.

Capt. Keith Chapman, who flew a Harrier out of King Abdul Aziz air field in Saudi Arabia during the war, found himself answering the same question over and over. Isn't the Harrier a British plane? How fast does it go? How does it fly straight up?

The plane was made in St. Louis by McDonnell Douglas, its speed is 690 mph, and it can turn its jets toward the ground.

Army Spec. 4 James Koontz, of Evansville, Ind., was in the middle of the biggest crowd, by a Patriot Missile Launcher. He was happy to be in the celebration. "Before the war," Koontz said, "everybody joked that the Patriot was no good." But now, "everybody says, you're a hero. . . . It makes me feel good."