Amid Confederate flag flap, veterans aim to save Homestead Veterans Day Parade

By TANIA VALDEMORO
tvaldemoro@MiamiHerald.com

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 121 has marched in the annual Veterans Day Parade in Homestead for at least a dozen years.

They hope to march this November, too, and that parade organizers can find a solution to resolve the controversy that erupted over a group of Confederate descendants marching with a battle flag for the first time in 2008.

”We don’t want the parade to be canceled,” said Dennis Magno, a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 121.

Since the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce leaders voted unanimously to disband the parade after the controversy erupted, veterans and residents have been calling the chamber to oppose canceling the parade, said Jerome Williams, the chamber president.

On Thursday morning, officials from the chamber’s military affairs committee unanimously voted to defer making any decisions on continuing or disbanding the popular 47-year-old event.

Instead, the executive board of the committee, known as the MAC, has accepted an offer of mediation by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, said Jeffrey Wander, who chairs the committee. The federal group helps communities in resolving conflicts related to race, color and national origin.

”The military base and the veterans that surround it are very important to the South Dade community,” he said. “To cancel a parade off hand would dishonor vets.”

”This is not the MAC’s fight,” added Jim Pierce, a member of MAC’s executive board. “We’d like to get a reconciliation and be able to have a parade.”

The Homestead Veterans Day parade is believed to be the oldest one honoring veterans in the county.

The military affairs committee sponsors the parade, which draws thousands of people, including veterans, military personnel, school marching bands and residents to Homestead every year.

But the parade had grown controversial after the Miami camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans marched with the Confederate battle flag last Nov. 11 for the first one time after a Palm Beach Veterans Day Parade was canceled. The Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP, along with members of the former Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, called for the flag to be banned in Homestead.

But the Confederate descendants group said members were planning to march again in the chamber parade — with some sort of flag. They said it was a matter of free speech.

The Confederate battle flag remains a controversial symbol in American history. To many, it symbolizes racism and slavery. Others believe it is an emblem of Southern pride. The local NAACP is campaigning to ban the flag from private and city-sponsored events in the future.

The NAACP plans to hold a press conference Thursday and protest Saturday in Homestead. It also has threatened to boycott the chamber’s businesses and work to defeat City Council members in the November elections.

They remain upset the City Council in April discontinued the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which had recommended not to display the Confederate battle flag. The board had rejected a suggestion from the Sons of Confederate Veterans to march with its Stars and Bars flag instead of the rebel flag, said Gregory Kalof, commander of the Miami camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

But like others, Pat Mellerson, former vice chair of the human relations board, is hoping that mediation works — and the parade can go on.

”I think it’s very bad for the community to just cancel the Veterans Day parade,” she said. “I think we as adults should get together and discuss this and walk away with a resolution.”

Copyright 2009 Miami Herald Media Co.

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