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‘This is what we fight for,’ vets honored at Grant Park parade

Home Heroes parade honors post-9/11 military veterans Saturday December 15 2012. The parade took place along Columbus Drive downtown Chicago.

Home the Heroes parade honors post-9/11 military veterans on Saturday, December 15, 2012. The parade took place along Columbus Drive in downtown Chicago. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:47AM


It was the simple message conveyed by a few thousand people in rain gear to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who marched in a parade honoring their service Saturday afternoon under rainy gray skies in Grant Park.

“This is what we fight for, not just for our families, but for the folks we don’t really know,” said Navy Chief David Howell, who grew up in Englewood and served in Iraq.

Andrew Turner, an army medic who also served in Iraq, teared up as he marched.

“It makes me emotional. It’s a crappy day, and these people made an effort to be here,” said Turner, 31, of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Between shouting “Thank you” to passing vets, Valerie Dick recalled with shame how some Vietnam veterans were treated after coming home.

“They had to change out of their uniforms at Union Station so when they came out they wouldn’t get spit on, and people were calling them baby killers,” said Dick, 52. “I lived in Elk Grove Village at the time and was only in eighth grade but I remember that clearly.”

Marching bands, bag pipe bands, roaring Harley motorcycles and armored military vehicles greeted flag waving parade attendants.

More than 1,000 veterans from every war since WWII marched — the majority fought in the Middle East.

Leslie Stephens, a motorcyclist who counts numerous vets as close friends, was disappointed more people didn’t turn out for the parade.

“This is Chicago, dude! All these people are shopping a block away, all they have to do is walk a block over for 15 minutes,” said Stephens, 67, of Galewood.

Parade organizers Christopher De Phillips and Laurie Ipsen — two thirtysomething non-military River West roommates who basically dreamed up the concept and brought it to fruition from scratch ­— were momentarily heartbroken by the lack of attendance, as if they had somehow had let the veterans down.

“But they were so cheerful and kept saying, ‘If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training,” said De Phillips. “I’ve never received such deep hugs.”

Ald. James Balcer (11th), a Vietnam vet, and TV newsman Bill Kurtis, emceed the event.

The parade was unique in its lack of speeches by politicians.

Gov. Pat Quinn waved from the stage but stayed mum.

“This wasn’t a day for me,” Quinn said. “It was for our veterans...they do us all proud.”

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