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Flag-waving parade crowd in St. Louis honors veterans

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:22 PM EST, Sat January 28, 2012
Honor guard memebers carry flags ahead of Saturday's homecoming parade in St. Louis.
Honor guard memebers carry flags ahead of Saturday's homecoming parade in St. Louis.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Veterans march in downtown St. Louis parade
  • Vigil includes reading of names of vets who have died since 9/11
  • New York and Washington held parades in 1991 for veterans of the first Gulf War

(CNN) -- Sunny skies, a large billowing U.S. flag and an appreciative crowd greeted hundreds of Iraq war veterans who marched Saturday in St. Louis in a first-of-its-kind "welcome home" ceremony.

Some participants rode motorcycles, while others rode in military trucks or on floats.

Many more veterans walked, waving to thousands who lined downtown streets.

Even a local institution, Anheuser-Busch's Clydesdale horse team, took part in "Welcome Home the Heroes."

Grassroots organizers billed the parade and related activities as the first such event in a major U.S. city.

It included resources for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to ease the transition to civilian life, including finding work.

Despite the public's higher support, official government agencies have had a hard time producing tangible success for vets. The 2010 unemployment rate among "Gulf War Era II" veterans (those who served after September 11, 2001) was 11.5%, according to the Department of Labor.

A vigil that began late Friday featured the reading of more than 6,000 names of service members who have died since 9/11.

A bell rang as each name was called.

Among those attending the vigil was Aginette Morgan, whose son, Sgt. Milton Gist Jr., died in January 2007 when a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq.

"He had just turned 27. He was home for his birthday and left for his birthday and I got a call on the 30th," Morgan told CNN affiliate KPLR. "The chaplains came to my job. I was at work when it happened, and I was a nervous wreck."

The parade's organizers decided to stage the event after President Barack Obama's announcement of the end of the Iraq war in December.

See more coverage from CNN affiliate KPLR

No other major cities have yet organized welcome-home parades, although two New York City Council members are pressing Mayor Michael Bloomberg to call such an event.

In 1991, New York and Washington each held parades to honor service members after the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War. Neither city has held a parade for veterans of the more recent conflicts.

In December, Obama traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for what the White House called a "welcome home" ceremony for Iraq war vets, and numerous events have been held on military bases welcoming home individual units.

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