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Local parade honors troops from Iraq and Afghanistan wars

In this Jan. 28 2012 file phoparticipants parade honor Iraq War veterans make their way along downtown street St. Louis.

In this Jan. 28, 2012 file photo, participants in a parade to honor Iraq War veterans make their way along a downtown street in St. Louis. The parade welcoming home Iraq War and other post-Sept. 11 veterans was such a hit that at least 10 other cities around the country are considering similar celebrations. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

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Updated: December 29, 2012 6:28AM



What are you doing at noon on Saturday, Dec. 15?

Let me make a suggestion.

Bundle up the family and get down to Columbus Drive in Grant Park that day for the Chicago Welcomes Home the Heroes Parade — one of the nation’s first parades dedicated to honoring our troops from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Thousands of military veterans plus active service members and their families are expected to march in the parade, which is attracting interest from around the U.S. but maybe not quite enough yet at home.

A pair of Chicago 30somethings, Cristopher De Phillips and Laurie Ipsen, have organized this do-it-yourself event with great care and affection for the men and women who have served our country.

But they are starting to worry, as am I, that the parade isn’t generating enough buzz outside the veterans community, which has embraced it wholeheartedly.

The last thing anybody should want is for those veterans to march from Balbo to Monroe with anything other than cheering throngs greeting them from the sidewalks.

If this will help motivate you, a similar parade in St. Louis last January drew 100,000 spectators on short notice.

I can’t believe anybody reading this believes the people of St. Louis are more patriotic or more appreciative of those in uniform than the people of Chicago.

I mean, baseball I could understand, but not veterans.

That’s why I’m hoping you’ll help me spread the word. Post it on your Facebook page. Tweet it to your followers. Email your brothers and sisters. Call mom.

December 15. Grant Park. Be there.

I’m not normally much of a flag-waver, nor am I a big fan of parades but I’ll be out there for this one. It strikes me as practically a civic responsibility.

It was a television report about the St. Louis parade that inspired De Phillips and Ipsen to try to do something in Chicago to show their appreciation.

Neither of them is a veteran, nor did they know the first thing about running a parade. He’s a teacher. She manages a restaurant.

But they learned. They enlisted the support of veterans groups, City Hall, even the Pentagon. They studied parade logistics.

And by all accounts, everything is coming together nicely.

Veterans from World War II to the present have registered to participate. Floats for each branch of the military are nearing completion. Jim Cornelison of Blackhawks fame has agreed to sing the national anthem. Bill Kurtis has committed to be master of ceremonies.

The last question is whether the word is getting out to everyday Chicagoans to line that parade route.

“That’s our biggest concern right now,” Ipsen told me last week when I dropped in on their small Grand and Ogden apartment that now doubles as parade central.

Remember this is all being organized on a shoestring budget without spending your tax dollars. As a requirement of their parade permit, the organizers must even reimburse the city for its costs.

Plus, there will be more than just a parade. The event will start Friday with a ceremony at the Thompson Center Plaza at which the names of all Americans who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be read aloud.

Following the parade, a resource reception for veterans will be held at the Chicago Cultural Center to connect vets with support in the areas of health, employment and education. Staff at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center is helping organize the reception.

The parade also will be a little different from what we’re used to seeing in Chicago in that there will be no businesses or politicians in the parade itself.

“We want this group of veterans to know this is 100 percent for them,” De Phillips said.

For information on how to get involved, check out their website at chicagowelcomeshometheheroes.org.

If you’re thinking Dec. 15 is a lousy day for a parade, sorry. They tell me that was the best open date available on the city’s event calendar.

This is Chicago where weather is no excuse.

“Now it’s up to us as Chicagoans,” De Phillips said. “This is your opportunity to come out and say thank you.”

I think you’d be glad you did.



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