The men and women of Desert Storm paraded proudly down historic Constitution Avenue Saturday, basking in a jubilant welcome home from fellow Americans wearing ribbons of yellow and waving flags of red, white and blue.
A flotilla of warplanes whooshed low over the National Mall. Tanks that once fought in the desert lumbered through the nation's capital. Battle streamers fluttered in the brilliant sunshine as Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf led more than 8,000 veterans of the gulf war in parade as he had in battle."Great day," exulted President Bush, the parade's reviewer-in-chief.
"I had goose bumps down my body the whole time," said Army Sgt. Karl Van Norman, who rode the parade route in the same tank he drove in Saudi Arabia.
Constitution Avenue was awash in flags. Flags clutched by toddlers in strollers. Flags stuck in straw hats, flags on buildings, wheelchairs, tow trucks and T-shirts. The U.S. Park Service police estimated the crowd at 200,000.
Heads craned skyward as the planes crossed over the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and all the panorama that the capital's skyline commands. In the lead: the F-117 Stealth fighter, a dark wedge against an azure sky.
"Wow," said 7-year-old Lauren Broussard, of Vienna, Va., when the Stealth tore by. "It looks just like Darth Vader's ship."
Stephanie Diesel, 30, of Annandale, Va., the daughter of a retired naval officer, said it with somewhat more sophistication: "We've had family involved in helping develop some of the weaponry. It's nice to see it paid off."
Daytime fireworks capped the aerial show - symbolic bombs bursting in air - as accompaniment to the singing of "God Bless America."
Amid the cheers were tears.
"War also deserves quiet remembrance," said the president as he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in the day's opening event.
Bush's voice choked briefly as he said Kuwait is free because "we dared risk our most precious asset, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives - the finest troops any country has ever had."
Families of some of the 376 American troops who lost their lives in the gulf were at Arlington for the ceremony. Eyes moistened and tears flowed during the singing of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The daylong celebration began with the morning service at Arlington in honor of the war dead and included a picnic for the veterans and their families, a USO show and, at dusk, what was billed as the biggest fireworks display ever in the nation's capital.
It was a day devoted to a celebration of victory.
This was the parade that never was held for the veterans of the Vietnam or Korean wars. It was, as Vietnam veteran Alan Yeater said, "a parade for everybody."
"It's a lot better when people are throwing ticker tape than eggs," said Army specialist Ken Jones, 20, from Dayton, Ohio, who served in the gulf.
The ticker tape comes on Monday when New York stages its own ceremonial welcome home for the troops.
Washington offered what it has - a president, and the historic setting known to all Americans.
When the parade reached the presidential reviewing stand, Schwarzkopf - dressed in desert fatigues - walked to the president and saluted. Both men, commander-in-chief and commander-of-troops smiled their delight during a proud moment.
Bush, coatless although his booth was air conditioned, leaned over to Schwarzkopf later and asked, "Why don't these guys carry their rifles?" The reply was not heard.
The cost of the day's celebration - parade, picnic, entertainment and fireworks - was running at $12 million, more than half of it from the Pentagon, and a million each from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
"This is good therapy for us, the parade makes us feel good about it," said Staff Sgt. Bob Collin from Bath, Maine, in a wheelchair because of shrapnel injuries suffered in the gulf. "We'll remember this 25 years from now."
Bush, in announcing plans for national celebrations, had said he wanted exactly that for the veterans and their families.
The presidential reviewing stand was decorated with a huge yellow ribbon. Two firetruck ladders a block away held a giant yellow bow aloft. And a wreath decorated the north portal of the White House, a block away.
The troops, representatives of the 540,000 men and women who served in the gulf, were dressed in battle uniforms. The shades of tan were enlivened by the bright colors of the unit flags they carried.
A few dissident voices were raised. A few hundred people gathered in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, with signs: "George Bush is Now the Butcher of Baghdad," "I mourn for the thousands who died in Iraq," and "War - immoral, unjust."
Police reported some arrests, but supplied no details.