Sharing Stories at the Nation’s Largest Veteran’s Day Parade

Thousands of veterans from every conflict since World War II marched up Fifth Avenue on November, 11, 2014, in New York City, home to the nation’s largest Veterans Day parade. The event was organized by the United War Veterans Council. More than a half million bystanders and supporters lined up along the route from 26th Street to 52nd Street along Fifth Avenue.

The holiday, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918 on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Honcheung Chan, a 47-year-old Afghanistan war veteran and a member of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) said this day is to honor the people that serve our country, especially those that have made it back alive. “I saw a lot of people who didn’t come back,” Chan added. He now works at Andersen Tax as an accountant.

The veteran members of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) marched along 5th Avenue, New York City, on November 11, 2014. LIR photo credit: Mia Xiang

The veteran members of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) marched along 5th Avenue, New York City, on November 11, 2014. LIR photo credit: Mia Xiang

Sergeant Fabio Peralta, another member of IAVA shared a similar sentiment to Chan’s. “Today is to honor those who have served this country so much, have given so much in their lives and their families’ lives.”

Sergeant Peralta is a Bronx-born native and an Iraq war veteran who joined the army in September 2010. He made up his mind to join the military when he was 15. “It’s something that I felt was important. So many people before me went over there and risked their lives; I wanted to be a part of them; I wanted to be a part of something bigger and I wanted to contribute as much as I could,” said Sergeant Peralta.

Veteran’s Day is just as meaningful to 83-year-old George Dronkow. “For 30 years, I never missed the Veterans Day parade.” Dronkow served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. “People get together to share memories and talk about their war stories.”

During the interview, a pedestrian stopped walking to salute Mr. Dronkow and thank him for his service. Veterans like Mr. Dronkow are proud of themselves. “There are so many times people come to shake my hand and say ‘thank you for your service’ and it makes me feel good,” said Dronkow.  

Even though Veteran’s Day honors those people who have sacrificed and served the country each year, according to some service members, the government itself still hasn’t shown enough respect for the veterans.

Members of the NAVY march along 5th Avenue, New York City, on November 11, 2014.   LIR photo credit: Mia Xiang

Members of the NAVY march along 5th Avenue, New York City, on November 11, 2014. LIR photo credit: Mia Xiang

“We’ve sacrificed so greatly, and what the country is doing now is making a scar. The government hasn’t given us what they’ve promised,” said Alan Kay, a 39-year-old Marine Corps veteran, and member of IAVA. The biggest problems veterans face after returning from their service are that many have no jobs, and many struggle during their transition period back.

“The government promised us a lot of things, but it is where it is; that’s how I see it,” said Sergeant Peralta. “Some of that needs work. Something just doesn’t happen overnight. It’s getting there; at least it’s better than how it used to be anyway,” continued Peralta.

As Sergeant Peralta said, the first reason he joined the military was to serve, but he emphasized that, it was not what he thought it would be in the beginning. “Everything changed when you were in a real war, because it was hell.” He refused to recall anything related to his comrade’s death in Iraq when asked about the situation of the war.

“It was terrible when I saw my friends die in combat, but I needed to learn to live with it,” said Alan Kay. After he returned to America, he confronted more difficulties, such as sleep. “The average sleep time for normal people is seven or eight hours, but I could only sleep two or three hours,” said Kay. Veterans like Mr. Kay get used to the idea that anything can happen. They stay alert during the night even after the war. His sleep problem lasted for almost two months.

Some fear a stereotype that veterans might beat women and children if they are suffering from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Additionally, veterans and the military struggle with high rates of suicide among those who have served in war zones. The suicide rate is even higher for those who don’t receive Veterans Administration medical benefits.

George Dronkow, 83, a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, stands outside Madison Square Park on November 11, 2014.  LIR photo credit: Mia Xiang

George Dronkow, 83, a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, stands outside Madison Square Park on November 11, 2014.
LIR photo credit: Mia Xiang

Veteran Dronkow never got married and has no children. He was engaged before he went to Korea, but received a “Dear John letter” from his girlfriend. “After I left, she went back to her old boyfriend, so she sent me the letter.” Mr. Dronkow got a little emotional while he talked about his past. “It could be the reason I never got married,” he said. During the war, many soldiers received this kind of letter written by a girlfriend to inform her significant other that their relationship was over. The emotional traumas that come with these rejections also play a role in affecting the emotional state of these troops.

Compared to people who don’t have the Armed Forces experience, these veterans seem to gain more insight about life. Despite what he’s been through, Alan Kay said, “Life is precious. Lots of people don’t know that.”

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