DENVER - Antiwar veterans passed out leaflets and carried signs opposing the war in Iraq yesterday after winning a last-minute right to march in this city's annual Veterans Day parade.About 50 marchers displayed peace signs and banners with messages like "Iraq is Just Vietnam in the Desert," "Bring Our Troops Home Where They Belong," and "Bush Lies."
They were greeted with bursts of applause by some parade-watchers and shouts of criticism by others.
"Go find another parade!" yelled one man.
"Leave your politics at home! This is about veterans, not politics," shouted Alex Cuellar, who attended the event with his wife and two young children.
He called the eleventh-hour decision to include the antiwar veterans groups in the parade "disgraceful."
"This is supposed to be for the veterans. It's not about whether the war was right. The soldiers don't choose the war," said Mr. Cuellar.
The United Veterans Council of Denver had excluded the antiwar groups, citing complaints about disruptions during last year's parade, until the city brokered a deal Friday afternoon allowing Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War to participate.
"We're happy to be included," said Frank Bessinger, founder of the Denver chapter of Veterans for Peace. "We've asked everyone to keep it respectful. Our intent has never been to disrupt or offend."
As the marchers passed the reviewing stand, a few parade-watchers asked why they hadn't displayed an American flag. The marchers carried organizational flags but not the Stars and Stripes.
"They weren't carrying an American flag and a couple of the veterans standing nearby asked why they weren't, but they didn't say anything," said Jerry Hageman, president of the United Veterans Council of Denver.
Otherwise, Mr. Hageman said, the event was a success. "It went off real well. They [antiwar veterans] did what they said they were going to do," he said.
In last year's parade, one antiwar marcher shouted at Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, as they passed the reviewing stand. The marchers also chanted antiwar slogans, resulting in complaints from some parade-watchers.
Mr. Hageman said the antiwar groups were excluded because the city's rules expressly forbid "politicking and soliciting" by marchers. But city officials agreed to allow the organizations to march after they promised not to "embarrass the city," said Mr. Bessinger.
Marchers didn't chant this year, but they did hand out copies of an article criticizing the war in Iraq, cards printed with the Bill of Rights, and postcards that said "Funding the War is Killing Our Troops."
The parade featured about 3,000 marchers, with the antiwar veterans bringing up the rear. "We're kind of like Santa Claus, coming at the end," said Mr. Bessinger.
Denver wasn't the only municipality wrestling with how to handle antiwar groups. In Boston, Veterans Day organizers struck a deal with Veterans for Peace that allows them to march at the end of the parade. In Long Beach, antiwar veterans were banned from marching in the city's parade after organizers said they wanted to keep politics out of the event. Long Beach City Attorney Bob Shannon backed parade organizers despite complaints from the groups.
© 2007 The Washington Times