The Making of A Parade: Behind the Scenes 2008 NYC Veterans Day Parade

Produced by United War Veterans Council

By: Marleen “Molly” Levi

A retrospective view of Parade production, featuring the late Patrick “Pat” Gualtieri
VVA#126 Chapter Member/State Delegate, - d.07/21/15

Sunday morning, 8:30am, Patrick “Pat” Gualtieri, Parade Chairman and then Executive Director of the UWVC, sleepily leaves home en route back to his office, located in lower Manhattan. In the months, weeks and days before the event, Patrick and team lives, breathes and sleeps Parade momentum virtually 24/7. The end goal: a skillfully executed Parade of honor, service and patriotism. To the outside observer, it looks much easier than it is but the team knows better. “There are so many moving parts to the Parade”, Pat muses; “most people would be amazed at the extended degree of coordination, detail and planning that’s involved”. To Pat, who oversees all aspects of the Parade, the event holds special meaning times over: first, as a Vietnam veteran, the Parade proudly honors all era veterans with dignity, respect and pride; second, it embodies and quite naturally promotes a (non-political) patriotic spirit; and third, it engages Pat’s creative vision – his signature - of what needs to be done and done well - a ‘cut above’. “We’ve certainly come a long way from the 8 member contingency marching up 5th Avenue years ago”, reflects Vietnam veteran Vince McGowan, the impetus behind the Veterans Day Parade and President of UWVC, producers of the annual Veterans Day Parade.


A sneak peak behind the scenes is a fascinating journey into the making of a Parade and the many, many cycles involved therein. Painstaking effort is made to identify, contain, control, manage and predict all components and detail to the extent possible. “We pray to the weather Gods each year”, quips Pat and Vince in unison, speaking of the one major variable. To be fair, no matter the highest degree of planning and preparation, the unexpected still occurs albeit well fielded. “Crisis management -whether large or small- is part of the process but handling it well comes from experience, know how and the ability to ‘think quickly on your feet’  confirms Pat. The Parade attracts spectator attendance and participation of over 20,000+ with more expected this year in particular, with three connecting parts to the Parade:

1. Mayor’s Veterans Recognition Breakfast at Gracie Mansion

2. 5th Avenue Parade – Opening ceremony/Parade kickoff up 5th Ave 24th – 56th Streets

3. Intrepid – Opening ceremony and crosstown march (join Parade in progress)


To gain some perspective, here’s but a small microcosm of activity and initiatives; many more behind these:

▪ Parade Route ▪ Budget ▪ Fundraising ▪ Permits ▪ Mayor’s Office ▪ Local City Agencies ▪ Commemorative Newspaper ▪ Sponsorship ▪ Promotion/PR ▪ Press Release ▪ Parade Participants (Local/Out-of-State) ▪ Marching Bands ▪ Motorcycles  ▪ Floats ▪ Volunteer Recruitment ▪ Dignitaries ▪ VIPs ▪ Veterans Organizations ▪ Special Needs ▪ Transport ▪ Grand Marshals ▪ Staging ▪ Program ▪ Street Closings ▪ Security ▪ Master of Ceremonies ▪ Reviewing Stand  ▪ Line of March ▪  21 Gun Salute ▪  Wreath Laying ▪ TAPS  ▪  Kickoff   


A Parade Committee is formed, weekly meetings/sub-committee meetings occur filled with agenda items; new information, ideas, updates and ‘in charge’ assignments.  This  generates unity, camaraderie; brainstorming, teamwork, and new connections. Recruiting volunteers is a major task – to secure responsible, reliable, capable and dedicated people. “We’re fortunate to have our core group of returning volunteers that  generously give of their time and support”, reflects Marleen “Molly” Levi, then Volunteer Manager; Recruitment/Orientation/Training. “Once involved, the spirit and volunteerism experience is exceedingly rewarding and quite unique”, she continues. Further, “new volunteers are always needed to supplement our base as the Parade grows in size and stature”, she concludes.


With the addition of Ryan Hegg, Deputy Chair, who joined the Parade committee then several years ago; the Parade’s moved into the 21st century. With computer savvy; Ryan has modernized the UWVC web site ( enabling on-line registration, sponsorship, volunteerism and even Line of March posting. His skilled artwork, fliers and vision has creatively captured a bold, patriotic spirit. Ryan’s observation: “Why should the veterans have to throw themselves a Parade? It’s something everyone in the community should be involved in”, he emphatically states.  


Back at Parade Headquarters nerve center, Pat and dedicated veterans staff, Clyde and Joel, are juggling the influx of phone calls, faxes, messages, confirmations; fielding an array of questions, follow-ups, etc. “How many groups are registered now?”, bellows Pat to Joel, who responds in kind: “135” and growing. The goal of 200 groups is realistically in sight as many groups register within the last few weeks (despite early August 2008 reach out). The frenzied activity fills the air amid a steady flow of people in/out of the office. Meetings with local city agencies are scheduled. There’s an unmistakable, powerful feeling; a contagion of energy and enthusiasm – the Parade taking on its own life force - a tangible substance of enormous magnitude. With such power to produce, comes tremendous responsibility. Patrick declares: “You only get one shot to do this right – no margin for error – no flaws – no mistakes. Obstacles must be overcome, pushing forward to achieve the desired result.” ‘No’ is not a term the Parade team often embraces. They are problem-solvers for virtually anything that arises. There is no ‘rain date’ – the Parade goes on as scheduled.


Day-of Parade 11/11: 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month…

All the endless preparation, meetings, delegated responsibilities, training, write-ups, Battle Plans, and coordination comes down to the ‘here and now’ of the ‘Parade Express’. The early morning hours are filled with a hub of pre-event activity… stage set-up… sound system… street closings… chairs/VIP seating… wreaths… dignitaries/VIPs… press… volunteers… Grand Marshals… Invited guests first enjoy early morning breakfast with the Mayor at Gracie Mansion. Afterwards, they’re transported to either 24th Street/Fifth Avenue (Madison Square Park) or this year only, to the newly renovated Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, at 46th Street/12th Avenue.


As the area around 24th Street/Fifth Avenue fills up, there’s an unmistakable larger-than-life presence and force at work. Everything pulls together for the hour long opening ceremony and Parade kickoff. Programs are handed out courtesy of the Navy Junior ROTC; Parade Marshals and Captains manage their designated area as marchers, marching bands and floats are so directed per the Line of March (a pain-staking process albeit fair and impartial). The execution of each component part is as precise as possible but contingent upon timing.


The Mayor’s arrival at 24th Street adds the official weight of dignified importance and significance to the Parade. The MC takes the stage and proudly announces the start of the Parade’s opening ceremony as the crowd swells in numbers; standing room only! Colors presented; Pledge of Allegiance… The speakers are then announced and begin with moving, patriotic and passionate words that stir the audience. Then the respectful wreath laying ceremony honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice, followed by TAPS; Parade kick-off gets underway as the Mayor and other dignitaries proceed up Fifth Avenue.


With coffee in one hand, a cigarette and papers in the other; fielding questions, still charging orders, Pat smiles broadly as the Parade is well underway! Never losing sight of the purpose, he drops back amid the sea of veterans as the crowd applauds and waves to the marchers with soaring patriotic spirit. A proud day for all in Paradeland!  “I never tire of this”, a weary but exhilarated Patrick exclaims. “I’m already thinking of next year’s Parade – our 90th anniversary!” Joel gingerly adds.


Thank you for your brave service to our great nation, my dearest Veterans, and welcome home. It is with such honor the Veterans Day Parade honors you! Freedom is Not free.