Gulf war veterans got a welcome home hug Monday from New York City that included a parade through the Canyon of Heroes, hearty cheers, a few jeers and tons of confetti. "I've been in seven parades since February," said Air Force Sgt. Kelly Young, "and I've never seen people on roofs, people in trees, people on top of cars, people hanging out of windows, toilet paper flying. . . . Nothing can top this."
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the 16-block route from the Battery past City Hall to participate in "Operation Welcome Home," the largest ticker-tape parade in the city's history. Fireworks, including the simulation of a Patriot missile hitting a Scud missile, capped the evening.
"It's a great day to be back home in New York," said Bronx-born Gen. Colin Powell, who along with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney served as grand marshals.
"Magnificent. Only in New York," Schwarzkopf said of the march.
Billed as a "celebration of peace achieved through international cooperation," the festivities drew a crowd that police estimated at 4.7-million, including those in the skyscrapers lining the route. Such figures have been considered exaggerated in the past.
The parade was marred by two clashes between war protesters and police. Thirty-six people were arrested on charges ranging from riot and assault to disorderly conduct, and 13 officers suffered minor injuries.
But most of the red-white-and-blue bedecked crowd roared their appreciation when the 24,000 marchers _ more than half of whom were veterans of the Persian Gulf war from 50 states and 17 nations _ stepped off at noon.
From above, 500 pounds of donated ticker-tape, 10,000 pounds of multicolored confetti, 140 miles of shredded yellow ribbon and streamers danced in the sky, before blanketing the street and crowd below.
Reams of computer paper also swirled downward while hundreds of colored balloons soared into the bright, cloudless sky.
"I just had to be here," said Jeanne Benedict of Grand Rapids, Mich., who came with her family for the celebration. "It makes us feel like we're contributing to what they contributed for us."
Buildings along the route were dressed in yards of yellow ribbon and scores of welcome home signs. "The American Stock Exchange Salutes Our Troops," read one. "Thanks," said another.
Others were more personal.
"Welcome Home J. Bauer, Coast Guard, PSU," said a homemade banner on one building.
Not everyone was there to lend support.
Protesters from the NationalCoalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East dotted the route with signs with messages such as: "200,000 Iraqis murdered for oil profits." Another showed a picture of President Bush and a caption that said: "Stop me before I kill again."
The Emergency Medical Service said 140 people were treated for heat exhaustion as a result of the 90-degree weather, and for other injuries, some suffered when people fell from parade perches.
But generally the parade went smoothly, with good spirits in the crowd and signs of international good will. In one unusual occurrence, an Israeli group participated near groups from Arab nations that normally boycott any Israeli presence.
At the end of the route, the marchers gave it rave reviews.
"Tremendous. The appreciation was so deep we had to high-step through the ticker-tape," said Maj. John Salazar of San Antonio, who was part of Schwarzkopf's headquarters unit from MacDill Air Force Base.