There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding President Trump’s proposed military parade. As is par for the political course these days, there are plenty of people who argue for it — and just as many arguing against. Whether such a parade is good for the military, the United States, or the Trump Administration isn’t for me to decide, but what can be said completely objectively is that Trump is not the first sitting Chief Executive to want to throw such a parade.
As is often the case, the best thing to do before looking ahead is to look behind — let’s review the other times in history the United States has held a military parade, and what those celebrations did for our nation.
In the early days of the republic, it was very common for the Commander-In-Chief to review troops, especially in celebration of Independence Day. This tradition stopped with President James K. Polk, however. His successor, Zachary Taylor, did not review the troops on July 4th and the tradition fell by the wayside.
Since then, we’ve hosted parades only during momentous times. Each of the following parades celebrated either a U.S. victory in a war or the inauguration of a President during the Cold War (as a thumb of the nose at Soviet parades).
A sight for sore eyes. General Grant leans forward for a better view of the parading troops as President Johnson, his Cabinet, and Generals Meade and Sherman look on from the presidential reviewing stand. “The sight was varied and grand,” Grant recalled in his memoir.
(Library of Congress)
1. Grand Review of the Armies, 1865
Just one month after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the new President, Andrew Johnson, wanted to change the mood of the mourning nation, especially in the capital. Johnson declared an end to the armed rebellion and called for the Grand Review of the Armies to honor the American forces who fought the Civil War to its successful conclusion.
Union troops from the Army of the Potomac, Army of Georgia, and Army of the Tennessee marched down Pennsylvania Avenue over the course of two days. Some 145,000 men and camp followers walked from the Capitol and pat the reviewing stand in front of the White House. Just a few short weeks after the review, the Union Army was disbanded.
US Marines march down Fifth Avenue in New York in September, 1919, nearly a year after the end of World War I. General John J. Pershing led the victory parade. A week later, Pershing led a similar parade through Washington, D.C.
2. World War I Victory Parades, 1919
A year after the end of World War I, General John J. Pershing marched 25,000 soldiers from the American Expeditionary Force down 5th Avenue in New York City, wearing their trench helmets and full battle rattle. He would do the same thing down the streets of Washington, DC, a little more than a week later.
Parades like this were held all over the United States, with varying degrees of sizes and equipment involved.
A float carried a huge bust of President Franklin Roosevelt in New York on June 13, 1942.
3. The ‘At War’ Parade, 1942
In 1942, New York held its largest parade ever (up to that point) on June 13, 1942. For over 11 hours, civilians and government servants marched up the streets of New York City in solidarity with the American troops who were being sent to fight overseas in World War II.
4. World War II Victory Parades, 1946
When you help win the largest conflict ever fought on Earth, you have to celebrate. Four million New Yorkers came to wave at 13,000 paratroopers of the 82d Airborne as they walked the streets in celebration of winning World War II. They were given one of NYC’s trademark ticker-tape parades, along with Sherman tanks, tank destroyers, howitzers, jeeps, armored cars, and anti-tank guns.
Army tanks move along Pennsylvania Avenue in the inaugural parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 21, 1953.
5. Inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
Fresh from a trip to the ongoing war in Korea, newly-minted President Dwight Eisenhower received a welcome worthy of a former general of his stature. Equally impressive was Ike’s inauguration parade. It was not just a celebration of the military’s best ascending to higher office, it was a reminder to the Soviet Union about all the hardware they would face in a global conflict with the United States.
The Presidential Review Stand during Kennedy’s inaugural parade.
6. Inauguration of John F. Kennedy, 1961
Keeping with the Cold War tradition of showing off our military power during international news events, like a Presidential inauguration, President John F. Kennedy also got the military treatment, as his military procession also included a number of missiles and missile interceptors.
7. Gulf War Victory Celebration, 1991
President George H.W. Bush was the last U.S. President to oversee a national victory parade. This time, it was a review of troops who successfully defended Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and expelled Iraq from Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. The National Victory Celebration was held Jun. 8, 1991, in Washington and Jun. 9. in New York City — it was the largest since the end of World War II.