Paul Pipik, Coordinator, Student Veterans Center, Prairie State College, Chicago Heights. Thursday, December 13, 2012 . I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 15, 2013 11:30AM
What exactly will it mean to local veterans if Chicagoans turn out in big numbers on Saturday for one of the nation’s only parades to honor troops from Iraq and Afghanistan?
“It would be indicative of a society that welcomes these guys back from the edge of the world,” said Paul Pipik, who served in Baghdad in 2005 and plans to be at the Grant Park parade.
From the edge of the world.
Without an embrace — through a parade, readjustment support or a simple thank you — veterans can feel adrift and isolated, said Pipik, who coordinates services for veterans at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights.
Many veterans “have been told that their service in a place like Afghanistan was wasted, they’ve been told there’s no way we’ll make a difference there,” said Pipik. “That’s not the case. Those guys went over there and they made a difference. The only place they don’t feel they made a difference is when they come back home.”
Pipik has dedicated himself to helping veterans and is optimistic that Chicagoans will do their part by showing up at the Chicago parade. It kicks off at noon Saturday at Columbus and Balbo.
Chicago, let’s show Pipik and the extraordinary volunteers who organized this parade on a shoestring that we know how to say thanks.
The parade was cobbled together by two regular folks who have no ties to the military. They were simply moved to show their gratitude and have spent the last 10 months “moving mountains,” as Pipik put it, pulling off a do-it-yourself parade. They’ve put together an incredible event, with floats for each military branch, vets dating to World War II as well as active service members, a resource fair after the parade and a memorial ceremony on Friday.
Without government support or an advertising budget (they’re actually $15,000 in the red), organizers Christopher De Phillips and Laurie Ipsen are relying on social media and word-of-mouth to draw crowds.
They’re nervous, but given Chicago’s track record of supporting veterans, they’re hopeful we’ll deliver.
“Will we show up 500,000 strong or will we be the city that came up short?” De Phillips said Thursday. “We hope to show that we’re the city that cares about veterans.”
For details, go to chicagowelcomeshometheheroes.org.