Sunday, March 4, 2012

How the Canyon of Heroes is Turning into a Canyon of Zeroes

 Call it patriotism, respect for our heroes or perhaps just being a bitter New England Patriots fan but I think its time we stop honoring New York sport teams in the Canyon of Heroes. The best part is I am not alone, and no I am not talking about the rest of Patriot Nation but by true heroes, the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. I feel the impromptu parades celebrating a sporting championship lessens the value and history of the Canyon of Heroes. Most people do not know the history of the Canyon of Heroes or even know why it's called that. Sure everyone knows the famous V-J Day photo of a returning sailor locking lips with a nurse in Times Square but what about the rest of the heroes that proudly walked down Broadway and how do we keep that honor for future heroes.

 What is the Canyon of Heroes? Physically the Canyon of Heroes is the lower section of Broadway that runs through the Financial District. The Canyon runs from Bowling Green to City Hall Park. Why there you may ask? Throughout New York City history it has always been home to the tallest buildings in the city which allowed for many more people to view and celebrate the honorees. But what does the Canyon represent? Most people will agree it represents a celebration of an unique triumph. When I think of the Canyon I see a place that should celebrate an achievement undone by others before. And I think that is the true meaning and purpose of the Canyon and that it is about time that practice is reinstated. Sure winning the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup and other sporting titles is a great achievement but nothing comparable to what the Canyon of Heroes is to represent.

I'm sure you're wondering how or why the Statue of Liberty is involved with the Canyon of Heroes. It is a simple answer, the Statue of Liberty lead to the first Canyon of Heroes parade. On October 26, 1886 the Statue of Liberty Dedication Ceremony was held in downtown Manhattan. The day was filled with joyous celebrations and we all know, then and even now, Americans love a parade. The impromptu parade celebrated the building of the Statue, its workers and well America. This parade was the first ticker tape parade in New York City and even in America and it celebrated something extraordinary, the completion of a 305 foot and one inch statue which was and still is the nations tallest standing statue. As you can see right from the beginning people celebrated things that they knew were never done before. The second ticker tape parade was held only a few years later in 1889 and honored America's greatest hero, George Washington. The parade honored the 100 year anniversary of Washington's inauguration which was important, well if I have to explain that then I think you might need to retake American History I. But as you can see the first two celebrations were in honor of something never done before, two unique events that have never been duplicated, unlike the winning of a sports championship.

The ticker tape parades would continue down the Canyon of Heroes honoring some of the greatest people in American History. In 1899 Admiral George Dewey was honored on his return for his triumphant victory at Manila Bay during the Spanish American War. It was to honor the Admiral himself but more importantly the victory at Manila Bay turned the United States into a world power. In 1919 the returning American Expeditionary Force and its commander General John J. Perishing were welcomed home in the Canyon of Heroes after returning the fighting and trenches of the World War I European battlefields. Again, another feat many men were not able to enjoy but more importantly secured the United States as the savior of Europe from the clutches of imperialistic nations like Germany and Austria-Hungary. But the Canyon was not just honoring war heroes, it was also used to honor visiting leaders such as king Albert and Queen Elisebeth of Belgium (1919), Edward Albert, Prince of Wales (1919), General Armando Diaz (1921), Ferdinand Foch, Marshall of France (1920) and even Albert Einstein, who by the way is still the only scientist ever to receive the honor of a ticker tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes. The honoring of heroes did not stop though with war heroes and foreign leaders, the Canyon of Heroes would continue to be a place that honored those who should still be considered heroes.

The 1920s saw a waive a ticker tape parades honoring heroes outside the theater of war. In 1925 Captain Paul C. Grening and the crew of the SS President Harding and again in 1926 Captain George Fried and the crew of the SS President Roosevelt were honor for heroic rescues at sea. Also in 1926 Bobby Jones was honored for winning the British Open and Gertrude Ederle for being the first women the English Chanel and the reason this is important was they were both Americans and have since been the only two Americans honored for achieving such feats. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh was celebrated for being the first man to fly across the Atlantic. 1930, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd was honored in the Canyon for his expedition to Antarctica. 1932, Amelia Earhart received a heroes welcome after being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Following the 1936 Olympics, Jesse Owens was honored after taking home four gold medals and really sticking it to Nazi Germany. The 1940s maybe when some of the most memorable and historical Canyon of Heroes parades were held. During 1945 and 1946 seven parades were held to honor the brave men that saved the world and ended World War II. In 1945, General Dwight Eisenhower his Allied Expeditionary Force, General Jonathan Wainwright, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, President Harry S. Truman, Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey and numerous service men and women returned home to a heroes welcome as the ticker tap rained down on them and the millions of Americans celebrated the ending of WWII. As 1946 came around the celebration continued as the 82nd Airborne Division returned home officially signaling the end of the war and Prime Minister Winston Churchill paraded down Broadway to delight and celebratory welcome again of millions of Americans. By now you're looking at the New York Giants and Yankees and I hope saying "maybe honoring them in the Canyon of Heroes is a bit much." As you can see these previous honorees were true heroes, men and women who did something unthinkable, something people have never done before or would only be second to.

From the 1950s until today, the Canyon of Heroes continues to celebrate great achievements and those who accomplished them. American military units, veterans, Presidents, astronauts, foreign dignitaries, Olympians, ship crews, a Pope, the Iran Hostages and even a musician, Van Clibirn who is still the only musician to have a parade held in his honor but there was one group that would change the spectrum of whom we consider heroes in America and that is the 1954 World Series Champion New York Giants. After their Canyon of Heroes parade every New York sport team that would win a championship would be given a parade down Broadway. But does anyone ever take into account how celebrating these teams effects the legacy of the Canyon of Heroes? I mean since the '54 Giants, the Mets appeared once in '86, the Rangers in '94, the Giants(football) in' 08 and just this February but the Yankees are the kings of the parade appearing nine times: '61, '62, '77, '78, '96, '98, '99, '00 and lastly in '09. But since the parade held for Nelson Mandela only New York sports team have been honored on Broadway. But what kind of message does that send to Americans? That being a multi-million dollar paid athlete and winning a championship is the only people worth celebrating and is the standard for what and who a hero is? Are there no more heroes in America? This leads me to the recent issue proposed by the returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

As the Giants prepared for their victory parade many others attacked them much more fiercely then my Patriots defense did. The attack was from all sides; veterans, writers, historians and even former Mayor of New York Ed Koch. When Mayor Bloomberg was proposed a parade honoring the heroes of these wars he called the parade idea "premature." America has been at war for eight years and finally the troops are coming home, is not a simple parade something they deserve, something to show that we as Americans never forgot about our men and women serving our nation. People say that there are still troops in Afghanistan, well I say to them lets have the two parades, one for those home now and one for those soon to be home I mean there were eight parades for the returning home form Europe and Japan following WWII. Mayor Bloomberg is worried about two parades for our current troops? The idea for the Canyon of Heroes tribute just did not come out of no where either, since December when the first troops began to come home, Staten Island Councilmen Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo began pushing for the parade. Former Mayor Ed Koch said “New York City should hold a parade for the veterans of Iraq, just as we held one when I was mayor for the veterans of Vietnam.” He then went on to say "I believe a parade is required, is necessary, and New York City is the place to have it." Mayor Bloomberg is waiting on a nod from the Pentagon to begin planning a parade, almost seems he and the Pentagon want to have a "Mission Accomplished" moment says professor at MIT. Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said "If a football team gets a parade, should not our veterans?" And he is right, Mr. Rieckhoff, former Mayor Koch, that professor from MIT and anyone else in favor of the parade honor these brave men and women. Today there is a lack of main stream heroes and I think we should look to our local vet returning home as a hero. There are heroes all around us not just those million dollar athletes that we idolize on a seasonal basis. We have allowed for such things to happen, I ask do we not still have great leaders? Has the world lost great leaders? Are there not heroic acts done of a playing field? Have we no one else to cheer for beside athletes? I think it is time people of America begin to look elsewhere for heroes because they are around us everyday. It is one thing to be idolized but to be a hero deserving of being honored in the Canyon of Heroes is something completely different and should not not be given for something that 30 some odd other teams have a chance at doing year in and year out. But I will leave my closing statement to Christopher Robbins, I feel he sums up how the parade is loosing it's meaning in one sentence, "While nearly a million Giants fans pack into Lower Manhattan this morning for a parade celebrating the triumph of one billion-dollar corporation over another, veterans of the Iraq war have yet to be honored in the Canyon of Heroes."

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