Call it the Better Late than Never Parade.
Miami kicked off Veterans Day weekend Friday with a special downtown salute to say thank you to two very special groups of South Florida veterans those who fought in Vietnam and those who were captured at the Bay of Pigs.
The Florida National Guards 13th Army Band resurrected rock songs from the 70s. Gloria Estefan sent a video salute. Veterans of many eras donned military attire to pay homage to those who fought in two American military ventures that ended badly.
Former Army First Sgt. Robert Molleda, 68, wearing a Purple Heart ribbon on his chest from the injuries inflicted by an 82mm mortar round on May 14, 1969 in Vietnam, reflected the sentiments of the day:
This is long overdue, said Molleda. We never got a welcome-home parade when we got back from the war.
Molleda, who left Cuba in 1959 and joined the U.S. Army three years later at age 17, said he has never regretted his service and would do it all over again.
Nearby at a grandstand, Brigade 2506 veteran Raul Martinez, 72, said he and fellow Bay of Pigs veterans did get a parade.
But the wrong kind.
Soon after his capture in the ill-fated, U.S-backed April 1961 invasion, the Cuban victors marched Martinez and others through the streets of Havana. It was a humiliation he blamed not on the trainers of the 82nd Airborne they were excellent, Martinez recalled Friday but on political machinations.
The people who blew it were the people in Washington, said Martinez, as another Brigade 2506 veteran chimed in, We were betrayed.
Police estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 people took part in the parade and accompanying concert, said Jorge Brito, sergeant at arms of the Board of County Commissioners.
And while the crowd was dotted with men and women in uniform, many of them active-duty service members, the actual turnout of Vietnam veterans was meager at best: A small knot of Vietnam veterans rode motorcycles in the parade, a self-styled color guard waved the POW/MIA flag from the bed of a flatbed truck and perhaps another 100 veterans and family members were driven down the street in a tour bus.
Veterans Day is Monday so the county and municipal leaders set aside Friday as a special day.
Its about time that the Vietnam veterans are recognized because when they came home they were spit upon, said Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado. Its sad that it took so long, he added, but its great that were doing this today.
The focus was meant to be on the Vietnam veterans,. Regalado said, adding that organizers included the Bay of Pigs veterans because they were trained by the U.S., so they are veterans, too.