NEW YORK -- Four million euphoric New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world cheered 24,000 marchers, more than half of them Desert Storm veterans, as they paraded up Broadway's 'Canyon of Heroes' Monday in the nation's biggest victory celebration since World War II.
The star-spangled, four-hour march stepped off at noon, led by Gulf War commanders and the Secretary of Defense in open convertibles with their wives.
The victors of the Persian Gulf moved up Broadway, forming a rainbow of Army camouflage khaki, sailor white and Air Force olive interspersed with scarlet and blue band uniforms, the colorful garb of foreign troops and dignitaries, and costumed groups like the feathered Brooklyn Gowanus Wildcats.
Daredevil parachutists plunged into the harbor under red, white, and blue chutes as the parade began, and a truck-mounted Patriot missile accompanied the marchers as blimps hovered overhead. Flags on Broadway buildings formed a fluttering canopy in a welcome breeze from the sea, answered by the waving of flags in the hands of hordes of spectators including tots hardly able to stand.
Office workers and other spectators clinging to window sills, balconies and ledges of 30 of the city's tallest spires showered 6,000 tons of obsolete ticker tape, especially manufactured for the occasion, and 1 million yellow ribbons mixed with multi-color confetti on the 500 marching units below. Red, white and blue balloons soared skyward.
The paper tribute was soon ankle high on Broadway and 18 inches deep at some intersections, completely hiding the blue stripe adorned with yellow bows painted on the parade route. Sanitation Department cleaners started sweeping as soon as the parade began to clear a path for the marchers' comfort and safety.
It was perfect parade weather, sunny and near 90 degrees, but health authorities warned of heat stroke.
Emergency Medical Service officials said 148 people were treated for a variety of ailments, including heat exhaustion, chest pains, drunkenness, and pushing injuries, with 45 being taken to area hospitals and 97 being treated at the scene. Six people left before EMS crews could assist them.
Eleven of the more than 3,000 policemen on duty were injured, one suffering a broken leg when a scaffolding along the route collapsed and others suffering unspecified injuries after being hit by debris.
After night fell, the sky lit up with a fireworks show. The crowd cheered and waved as the lights-in-the-sky show dazzled spectators and gave them the feat needed to end the spectacular day.
Police officials estimated there were 4 million spectators -- double the number originally expected.
There were some definite favorites, judging from deafening roars, as spectators sighted Gens. Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell, the Navy band playing 'Anchors Aweigh,' a Coast Guard color guard, a Patriot missile and a jet fighter mounted on a trucks, and a smart-looking unit of French Foreign Legionnaires.
Said Powell from a City Hall reviewing stand, 'It's magnificent. Only in New York.'
An attempt by anti-war protesters to mar a day devoted to celebrating peace and victory was short-lived as a cordon of 200 police isolated them from the marchers. Police said 22 protesters were arrested along the route.
The march included a representation of veterans of previous American wars, including veterans of the Vietnam War whose own homecoming in the late 1960s had been a bitter experience. A score of Vietnam vets carried a huge outstretched Old Glory.
'We had our war, they had theirs,' said Wayne Hicks, of New York, a Vietnam vet who was working as a reporter for a veterans' new service. 'I won't detract from it in any way. They deserve what they are getting today.'
There also were a few prisoners of war from the Gulf War such as sailor Bob Wetzel of Metuchen, N. J., who was held in Iraq for 45 days.
'I'm totally excited,' Wetzel said. 'The American people are so patriotic and so great. I never had doubt in my mind they'd bring us home someday.'
Most of the participating military arrived at the parade starting point by subway, bus, train, and ferry but some Marines landed at the Battery, a restored fort from the War of 1812, in three amphibious craft, the first 'attack' on Manhattan since the English captured the city in the Revolutionary War.
Among the marchers and those who rode in trucks, tanks and vintage military vehicles dating back to World War I were 126 of the nation's 220 Medal of Honor winners, veterans of past wars from 50 states, representatives of 15 U.N. coalition countries who joined in the Gulf War. Dignitaries of 23 other nations, from Argentina to the United Arab Emirates, rode in cars with their country's flags flying.
Mayor David Dinkins, jauntily dressed in a white cap and jacket, paused in the march to say, 'We're all very proud of our troops.'
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, and Schwarzkopf, commander of the Allied forces in the Gulf, and Powell, head of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, waved to the crowds tirelessly from their cars.
The parade was the first victory parade ever to be paid for by private donations, with some $5 million raised to date.
The daylong extravaganza began with Dinkins and Gov. Mario Cuomo honoring the three parade grand marshals -- Cheney, Powell and Schwarzkopf -- by giving them the keys to the city and souvenir crystal flags. The governor presented the three men with Conspicuous Service Medals, the highest honor New York state can bestow on military personnel.