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Thousands of troops got their marching orders for an undertaking Monday as intricate as a military maneuver - a giant ticker-tape parade for Desert Storm veterans.

A force of 1,200 Marines in three amphibious craft was to hit Battery Park, 2,500 troops were to move in on the Staten Island Ferry and 1,000 more were to march up from a lower Manhattan subway station. A British unit was to slip across the Hudson from Hoboken, N.J., and 7,000 troops were arriving on 600 buses.Operation Welcome Home - the biggest ticker-tape parade in New York City history - was to be a four-hour march through the skyscraper-lined Canyon of Heroes by 24,000 people, more than half of whom served in the Persian Gulf war.

More than 1 million people were expected to watch the parade from Battery Park on the tip of lower Manhattan, through the Financial District and past City Hall.

Marchers were to be showered with 200 miles of ticker tape, 10,000 pounds of confetti and an undetermined number of shredded telephone books.

The event was to include several tanks, a jet fighter and a Patriot missile, as well as a nighttime fireworks display. It was New York's first privately financed parade.

"It's as intricate as a military operation," said Eric Andrus, spokesman for the parade. "It's a big jigsaw puzzle we're trying to fit together."

The grand marshals were Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Bronx native; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Operation Desert Storm and a New Jersey man, and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

The line of march included veterans from 50 states and 17 nations, celebrities such as Brooke Shields, Bo Diddley and Tony Orlando, and New Yorkers in the ethnic attire of 20 nations.

Protests were planned before, during and after the parade. Police assigned 3,000 officers along the route, including rooftop sharpshooters.

Almost 100 firefighters, some with extinguishers, were assigned to the route in case protesters threw flaming yellow ribbons. The fire department said police had information such a demonstration was possible.

Mara Margolis of the protest group Refuse and Resist said she knew of no plans to set ribbons afire. But she said, "We are encouraging creative acts to create an international incident to let people know we don't salute this `new world order' of George Bush."

"Creative acts," she said, included splattering red paint along the route and covering floats with streamers of red and black, the war opposition's colors.

The first acts of vandalism were reported overnight, when someone splashed red paint over four yellow ribbons painted on the pavement along the parade route. The fire department quickly hosed off the red paint, said a department spokesman.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark was among those who called for cancellation of the parade. "We are now engaging in a protracted celebration of militarism, to the point of glorifying a slaughter," he said.

On Sunday night protesters interrupted Powell, Schwarzkopf and Cheney as they spoke at an interfaith service for the war dead at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Police charged 12 people with disorderly conduct.