It would have been easy to mistake the American flag draped around the shoulders of veteran John Fleming on Saturday as just another symbol of pride in a parade full of?such symbols. Fleming, in uniform, rode near the front of the Louisiana Bicentennial Military Parade in a military Jeep driven by friend and fellow veteran Frank Rotermann of New Orleans.
But the flag he wore carried special meaning for both?men, and?for an entire nation.?This flag belonged to his father,? Fleming said of Rotermann. ?It flew at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked. It's a prized relic, and he brings it anytime he comes out. I was honored he let me carry it today.?
Fleming?held up?a corner of the 48-star flag. ?Touch it,? he said. ?Can't you just feel the history??
Fleming, a Metairie resident who served in the Vietnam War, was one of hundreds of veterans, current military personnel and youth involved in military organizations who marched through the streets of New Orleans to celebrate not only the 200th anniversary of Louisiana's statehood but the special bond?among members of the military.
?When you're in the military, when you're a veteran -? you're the brother of every other veteran. I'm a brother of these young people,? said Fleming, gesturing to?Louisiana National Guard members who stood nearby.
Among them was Lt. Jessica Plummer of the Joint Force Headquarters for the Louisiana National Guard, which helped organize the event. She shared Fleming's sentiments.
?This is something common to veterans from the past, plus those joining the military now,? she said.
She said she was happy to see so many people come out for the event, which took months to plan. ?We had a great turnout,? she said. ?We are grateful to have all our veterans and also the civilians and family members who came out to watch and thank us.?
Plummer said it was important for the state's military personnel to be involved in the bicentennial celebration. ?It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us,? she said. ?It only happens once in 200 years.?
While this parade was more about solemn respect than beads and bands, that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of onlookers. Many of them twirled flags, waved to the veterans and shouted their thanks.
Lynette Little of Algiers said that?as soon as she heard about the parade, she knew she wanted to come out and lend her support.
?We're supporting the veterans. It's important, especially now after Katrina and everything everybody has done for us and just recently with Sandy,? she said. ?Seeing the veterans is so emotional. It's so nice.?
Margaret Gay, also of Algiers, said she thought it was important to show the troops she supports them. ?I worked part of the time during World War II for Delta Airlines,? she said. ?Flying over, the (soldiers)?were so sad, and on the way back they were so happy. But when they got back they didn't get much support.?
Gay said she believes the military holds a special place in the hearts of many area residents.
The National World War II Museum was the ending point for the procession. Once there, a swearing-in ceremony took place for recruits from all branches of the military. The ceremony was followed by a reception inside the museum.