For the first time in 51 years, there will be no Veterans Day parade in Vero Beach.
There will be no men marching the streets with heavy rifles cradled in their arms, no old soldiers walking stoically under the weight of their nation’s flag strapped at their belts.
World War II veterans are simply too old to walk the route, which is a little more than a mile long.
“We have people who are somewhere around 80 years old, and they can’t carry the big heavy flags they carried 20 years ago,” said Bud Gibbs, 74, a former prisoner of war and vice president of Indian River County’s Veterans Council. “We would be foolish to think we could do that any more than we could play baseball like we used to.”
Instead, a celebration is planned today at Memorial Island, eight immaculate acres in the Intracoastal Waterway. Golf carts will take the older participants the 100 yards or so from the mainland parking lot to the island.
The experience in Indian River County - a citrus region of about 100,000 people, nearly a third of them over age 65 - is becoming increasingly common in communities around the country.
During the past two years, the number of surviving World War II veterans fell below the number of Vietnam veterans for the first time.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 6.7 million veterans of World War II are still alive, at an average age of 77. There are 8.2 million Vietnam War veterans, at an average age of 51.
“What we’re seeing broadly across the country is - in a word - life,” said Phil Budahn, spokesman for the American Legion. “One generation passes from the scene and other generations come forward.”
Whether veterans of more recent wars will organize and participate in Veterans Day activities in the same way their World War II counterparts have done remains to be seen. Age is not the only factor.
With Vietnam, many veterans returned feeling shame or disgust from their fellow citizens- not the warm embrace of a proud nation. And while the Persian Gulf War restored some of the lost patriotism, that dissipated rapidly, said Chris Scheer, a Veterans Affairs spokesman.
“The legacy of Vietnam is that patriotism - overt patriotism - really wasn’t in fashion for some time,” Scheer said. “I think that’s changing.”