This Year’s New York City Veterans Day Parade


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I used to cry because I was bitter, alone and angry. On Veterans Day this year, I was crying because I am proud and not alone. Riding the bus with 46 other Veterans from the VA Hospital in New Jersey, I took the time to reflect. I did my tour in Vietnam not because I am brave or a hero but because I believe in honoring God, Country and Family. I was scared, I will admit it, and how can you not be when the sounds of war surround you? How you can you not be scared when you know that you can die like you have seen others die? I came home from the war proud that I survived, proud that I helped save democracy and proud to be an American. That feeling didn’t last for long. I was harassed, spit upon, treated like I did something wrong and I lived with feelings of shame and feeling like I was bad.

That all changed thanks to the PTSD unit at the Lyons VA hospital. I learned how to deal with my fears and thoughts. I learned that I was not a bad person. I learned that I was not alone.

On November 11, 2010, it was a lesson well learned. I had the honor of accompanying Veterans from the PTSD Unit at Lyons, LZ Hope, a peer support group at East Orange and Lyons Combat Support United, to the New York City Veterans Day Parade. We took a bus up and the staff on the bus made sure to greet us with “Good Morning – Thank you for your service” and always with a smile. I learned that some of the staff didn’t even get paid for the day—they took the time on their own to ensure that we had support. They also told us some of the things to expect, like by the red carpet area there might be helicopters going overhead and that we would be safe, to take deep breathes and know that it might happen. One of the staff members, though a Veteran herself said that she would be running the sidelines and that if anyone wanted to drop out to look for her but to rest assured, we would be able to hear her (and boy did we ever hear her. She was loud and proud). We were reassured that if we didn’t want to march, that we could walk or take the bus to the end of the parade route and watch it from there.

We started lining up on 28th Street and Fifth Avenue. The people were overwhelming, but we were greeted by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 779. We were going to march with them. They made an impressive site. They were dressed in black with white flag holders and the flags took up half a city block. With our guys, it took almost two city blocks!

We spent a lot of time waiting and people watching. It didn’t hurt that we were waiting with the USO Float and listening to them practice singing. We saw the Mayor of New York City and the Governor of the State of New York.

Finally it was time for us to step off. I kept my eyes on the younger guys from Iraq/Afghanistan. They reminded me of when I first did the parade with the PTSD unit over four years ago. The first time I thought it was corny, but I did it because it was expected but I kept my head down. I was determined not to see anyone make fun of me but you get lost in listening to the crowds cheering “Thank You” and waving flags and holding up homemade signs saying because of us they were free. By the time you got to the review stand in front of the New York Library, you feel differently—you feel like you are a hero and that it is a good thing.

The first year I went, I was impressed that the Cardinal came out of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and shook hands and gave blessings to us. This year, our entire group broke ranks and stepped over to the Cardinal and got a blessing. It was truly moving. We neared the end of the parade and I could hear the Veterans start to talk to each other saying how cool it was and talking about the signs. The younger Veterans all seemed to feel that it was a great day and they felt proud of their service. And they felt proud that they did some good for the country. One of the Veterans who just returned from Afghanistan said that he was anxious because being in the parade reminded him of being in convoys and that the people taking pictures with their cell phones made him nervous because cell phones were used to detonate bombs on the road. He said that he wanted to march and he just listened to the staff member who was running the sidelines and yelling and cheering and knew that he would be safe.

For me, an old Marine, I always feel clean at the end of the parade. It is hard to explain but after years of hiding my PTSD with alcohol and drugs and isolating, the parade always reminds me that I’m proud to be an American.

Today I cry because I am proud of who I am and thankful for the staff at the VA in New Jersey and Chapter 779. I am not alone.

Willie Rosenberg served in the United States Marine Corps with the Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division in Vietnam in 1969/1970. He is also the proud father of a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq. Mr. Rosenberg volunteers as a team leader in the Lyons House, a drop in center for Veterans with a mental health diagnosis at the Lyons Campus of the VA New Jersey Health Care System.

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Willie Rosenberg

Comments

  1. mslizny    

    I had business in New York City on Veteran’s Day, and the parade stopped briefly at 34th Street so that pedestrians could cross Fifth Avenue.

    When I realized that a unit of the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq Wars was up next I waited until they had all passed, and kept clapping for them as they went by. I wanted them and the people watching the parade to know that I am grateful for their service for our country.

    I was in college during the Vietnam war. Each year some of the young men in my classes disappeared, only to return to resume their studies a year or so later. These classmates of mine had been in Vietnam, as I realized after a while, and they and others I have met in the years since had a very difficult adjustment in the country they had served when they returned. It was some time later that we began to hear of PTSD and exposure to dangerous substances, and others came back addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some are already gone.

    It is because of those I have known in the service of our country and those I know as veterans that I try to make sure any person in our military that I have the opportunity to meet knows that I appreciate the sacrifices they are making. Their families struggle too. These are our sons and daughters, and they deserve our support.

  2. Asenath D El    

    Thank You
    That was sure a moving testimony. It brought tears to my eyes; as a proud mother of two Navy sons one active since 2000 to present, one a veteran since 2004 after eight years enlisted. My Dad was a MP in WWll I have nothing but LOVE for the vets of the Vietnam era, as well as all the vet alike. The ony thing that I regret is that; I did not join the military. Peace brother I’m glad that you have made peace with yourself.

  3. Tom Hansen    

    I too am a Vietnam Vet 67-68 TET. When I returned I “sucked it up” and got on with my life the best I could. There was no PTSD. 35 years later I wound up in the PTSD Clinic in the Bronx VA, 35 years wasted, constantly angry, constantly fighting a personal internal battle in my mind. Somehow we need to make all combat operations personnel including support units to register with the VA in the PTSD Clinic, I lost 35 years of my life, if I knew then what I know now I and those who love me and who I love would have lived a much happier life. We owe it to them, they owe it to themselves.

  4. Kenneth Lindsay    

    Very good and honest story.

    Another Vietnam ERA vet with PTSD

  5. Alyse Zwick    

    Reading this literally brought tears to my eyes. I am a volunteer with the United War Veterans Council, producers of the NYC Veteran’s Day parade, and this is exactly why I volunteer to make sure your service and dedication to your country is honored. Thank you for sharing and again, for your service.

  6. Fred E. Walters    

    Great Story Willie !!! “Semper Fi”, FEW

  7. Jami Heath    

    Moving story! So proud of you, for serving our country, facing your issues, and sharing your story with us! I am so blessed to be able to work with veterans everyday!

  8. Robi Fortune    

    Thank you, Honorable Veteran Rosenberg, for your sacrifices, your service, and for everything you’ve had the strength to endure ever since. Too many don’t understand this issue – PTSD…and don’t understand how common it is (after studying it, I’ve discovered that it is even fairly common for non-military people that have endured trauma). I’m still waiting, for over a decade of being an Army Vet and knowing what this disorder can do to a person’s life, for there to be “Public Service Announcements” explaining it…so that the general population can understand and give (especially with Vets) the respect that is due.

    It’s easy to be strong and moral when a person has never been challenged – mind, body, soul – and it speaks VOLUMES for those that have been challenged this way, and Demand to Stand Strong in the face of such challenges.

    God Bless You, Sir…I, for one, am very proud of you and to follow in your footsteps.

  9. Walter Shockley    

    Great story…thank you for sharing..

  10. Joe Bello    

    As a Parade Marshall (Emeritus) for the NYC Veterans Day parade, I love to hear stories like this. Just this evening we held our wrap-up meeting and talked about these kinds of stories: how veterans ran into buddies they hadn’t seen since they served, or how an older veteran wanted to participate but couldn’t walk and was put on a bus or in a car to ride in the parade. Thank you Willie for sharing your story. I will make sure to share it with the UWVC. We hope to see you next year!

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