816 North

Hopes run high for event to honor military service

Last year Kansas City’s May Armed Forces Day Parade was a hastily-organized and not well attended event that aimed to emulate the larger St. Louis welcome home for Iraq war veterans.

This year, organizer David Page of Gladstone is confident the reconfigured Salute Our Heroes-KC will be much more successful, with an expanded list of activities and performers. It’s now a two-day event starting Friday and will include the parade, a day of music and outdoor entertainment, a reading of nearly 7,000 names of those killed in battle since Sept. 11, 2001, and free tours of the World War I Memorial for veterans.

The federal government’s budget-cutting sequestration measures have put the kibosh on fly-overs, military bands and the like this year. Still, there are 100 volunteers and 165 performers on hand to make this year’s activities happen.

Page hopes to make the event an annual celebration, where residents can show their appreciation to the sacrifice made by everyone who serves in the military. “I hope the city will catch on to this,” he said. “I hope it will be as lasting as the St. Patrick’s Day parade.”

Page has never served in the military, but his daughter-in-law, Danielle Page, is a member of the Missouri National Guard who will soon be in Afghanistan. He took up the cause of armed forces recognition last year when the U.S. ended military action in Iraq. Some St. Louis residents, upset that there wasn’t much fanfare for the returning troops, threw a parade that caught national attention.

The Kansas City parade got some last-minute publicity, but not as much as the one in St. Louis, and it came too late to make a difference in the disappointing attendance, Page said. This year he hopes more people will show up.

“I don’t think 99 percent of the people think very much about what services and sacrifices the armed forces make,” Page said. “It’s an important job we couldn’t do without.”

Page differentiates between his event and Veterans Day. The May event will thank everyone in the armed forces, including but not limited to veterans. He said the May date may work better for an annual celebration than November, when Veterans Day is celebrated.

It’s important for people who have served in the military to know they are appreciated and not forgotten, said Harry Gray of Parkville, who is helping with the event. “They have given up so much,” said Gray, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force. “The training alone turns you into a different person.”

Even a veteran who is never sent to war must “be prepared to give up your life at a moment’s notice and not be afraid,” Gray said. “People don’t understand that.”

Another organizer, Jerry Plantz of Lee’s Summit, said he hopes more people come out this year to spend some time with military people and their families. “It’s heart-warming for them to know someone really cares and is going out of their way to say, ‘We appreciate you and you’re not forgotten,’” he said.

“We need another dose of patriotism.”