Bud Kennedy

1981: When Fort Worth forgot our veterans

Junior ROTC cadets in the 2014 Veterans Day parade.
Junior ROTC cadets in the 2014 Veterans Day parade. Star-Telegram

This is almost unimaginable today in Fort Worth, a city named for a U.S. Army outpost and for 75 years the home of pilots and defense workers guarding America’s freedom.

But in 1981, this city forgot our veterans.

Six years after Vietnam and 20 years before the war on terror, the annual downtown Veterans Day parade was canceled for lack of interest.

“Veterans Day parades, like old soldiers, never die — they just fade away,” the Star-Telegram reported after the 1980 parade drew only a few hundred participants and spectators.

“There’s just not enough interest in it anymore,” said parade chairman and state Rep. Doyle Willis, a Bronze Star U.S. Army Air Corps intelligence officer in the Pacific in World War II and a past Veterans of Foreign Wars state commander.

The Star-Telegram had generously estimated the 1980 attendance as 1,500. Willis said the crowd was only 200, down from tens of thousands in the years after World War II.

The first Armistice Day parades in Fort Worth and elsewhere were in 1919, celebrating a year since the end of the yet-to-be-numbered World War.

In 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day. For 95 out of 96 years, skipping 1981, Fort Worth has hosted an annual parade.

By 1980, the patriotism of World War II had waned and football was drawing crowds away from the then-Saturday parades, Willis said then.

The commander of one local VFW post said no one came “except winos sitting on the curb and a few construction people,” probably from then-unfinished Sundance Square.

“It just breaks my heart,” Willis said.

When the parade was revived in 1982, organizers chose a regular Nov. 11 date. The crowd was estimated at 5,000-plus.

The parade Wednesday will draw an estimated 8,000 participants, including 3,000 student junior ROTC marchers alone.

“We get great support now from the city, county, the school district and Sundance Square,” said Ken Cox of Fort Worth, retired from the Air National Guard and in his first year as chairman of the parade for the charity organizers, the Tarrant County Veterans Council.

“We want everybody to come,” he said.

“The thing is, we want everybody who comes to respect the veterans. Our mission is to show support for our veterans — not anything else.”

But that might not be the only mission for two parade units representing local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans history and heritage society.

One Bedford chapter’s newsletter encouraged joining the parade to show “Confederate Lives Still Matter.”

Cox said he does not know whether anyone will wave the same Confederate battle flag once carried in combat against U.S. armed forces.

But he added: “I’m just basically hoping people will keep all that stuff out of it.” The topic has never come before the veterans council board, which is racially inclusive, he said.

Today is for remembering veterans, not old wars.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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