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Three Women Serve As Grand Marshals For St. Louis Veterans Day Parade

St. Louis held its annual Veterans Day Observance downtown Saturday. For the first time in 31 years, all of the parade marshals were women.

The celebration began on a solemn note with a formal ceremony in front of the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. Bells rang and bugle taps played in memory of POWs and soldiers who went missing in action.

The ceremony also honored the parade’s three grand marshals: Major General Susan Davidson, a commander at Scott Air Force Base, and two women who served during World War II: Alice Anderson of the Navy WAVES and Velma Jesse of the Army WAC.

Lynnea Magnuson was part of the parade committee that selected the grand marshals. She said the three women formed a nice symmetry representing military women past and present.

“They (Anderson and Jesse) were the ones in World War II who opened the door if you will,” said Magnuson, who is the superintendent of the Soldiers Memorial. “Now we have an integrated military with women and men serving together, and not just as typists or whatever. These women are commanding.”

Magnuson says the parade committee didn’t originally plan to select three women, however. They just wanted to select one current member of the military and St. Louis veterans that epitomized “what it means to serve.” But the men who were chosen became sick and could not come to the parade.

General Davidson, the grand marshal currently serving in the military, spoke during the ceremony. She said Veterans Day is an opportunity to “remind folks that it is an all year effort” to honor veterans.

Davidson said there are three ways to honor veterans in day-to-day life: by voting, teaching children what it means to serve the country, and offering support in the form of employment or volunteering for a veteran organization.

After the ceremony ended, people began lining the streets waiting for the parade to start.

John Martise and his uncle Mike Mueller. Mueller served in the military for thirteen years.
Credit Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio
John Martise and his uncle Mike Mueller wait for the Veterans Day Parade to start. Mueller served in the military for thirteen years.

Mike Mueller of St. Louis came with his family. Mueller was in the military for thirteen years, and said he comes to the parade every year. To him, Veterans Day means freedom.

“To help us live the way we want to live, to keep that dream going,” Mueller said. “That’s freedom. People died for what our country stands for.”

Further down the street, Fritz Uhle stood alone, holding a black POW/MIA flag blowing in the brisk breeze.

“I’m just here paying my respects to the veterans we have and what they’ve done for us,” Uhle said. “My family generationally fit right in the slots between the United States’ major conflicts. I’ve never had to see a war. My father didn’t. My grandpa fought in World War II, and some uncles have fought. But war hasn’t really touched my family personally in a lot of ways that it has a lot of families. And I’m just really happy to honor the people who did it for me.”

Though still resonant with meaning, the mood took a more jubilant tone once the parade began to the whistle of an old-time steam train. Drum beats and chants filled the air. Flags waved, high school troops danced, and parade marshals waved through the windows of antique cars.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille