WASHINGTON — Planners for this fall’s national military parade here have promised to make former service members a key focus of the event, to include heavy involvement from veterans groups and integration with the annual Washington D.C. Veterans Day parade.
But top Veterans Affairs officials said this week they’ve had no involvement in the planning.
Also, there’s no such thing as the annual Washington D.C. Veterans Day parade.
Last week, defense officials released a planning memo for the event that promised a national celebration highlighting “the contributions of our veterans throughout the history of the U.S. military … with an emphasis on the price of freedom.”
That is set to include veterans and reenactors from every American conflict since the Revolutionary War, as well as aircraft and wheeled vehicles (but “no tanks,” according to the memo) from the current force.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Northern Command officials will serve as the primary planners for the event. In the memo, they noted that “veterans and Medal of Honor recipients should be surrounding [the president] in the reviewing area of the Capitol” for the event, and that the national parade “will integrate with the annual D.C. Veteran’s Day Parade.”
That came as a surprise to local city officials, who said so such event exists.
“We have not hosted a Veterans Day parade,” said LaToya Foster, press secretary for Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. “Generally, there are a number of small events taking place in town.”
Those include a series of community service projects with local volunteers and veterans service organizations, which included more than 200 individuals last year. Similar plans are underway for this November’s holiday.
When asked about the absence of a local parade, defense officials in a statement said that “we are in the planning phase and as we go along we’ll get more clarity.”
That work thus far has not included any contributions from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which already holds a massive Veterans Day celebration at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
On Wednesday, in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, VA Secretary David Shulkin said that so far his office has had “no discussions with the White House about participating in the parade.”
He also said that he hopes the new event doesn’t distract from the department’s existing plans to honor veterans that day.
“Veterans Day is a very important day to us,” he said. “We put our resources and our efforts into the recognition at Arlington National Cemetery that day. We have no plans to change that.”
In the past, President Donald Trump has praised the annual Bastille Day parade in France, which he attended last summer, as an inspiring showcase for that nation’s military. He directed Pentagon officials to try and replicate that with the Veterans Day event.
“I think it’s great for spirit,” he said during a Fox News interview last month. “The military loves it, they love the idea. … The generals would love to do it, I can tell you, and so would I. I think it’s great for our country in terms of being a cheerleader and the spirit.”
Exact costs for the event have not yet been determined. However, several Democratic lawmakers have already introduced legislation to block the event, calling it a waste of time and resources.
Last month, a membership poll by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that roughly 70 percent of their respondents opposed the idea of a national military parade, against 22 percent who backed the idea.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.