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Fort Dodge group marched in JFK parade 60 years ago

Sixty years ago today, Fort Dodge experienced perhaps its finest hour on the world stage when 53 of its young people marched in the Inauguration Parade for President John F. Kennedy.

A million people lined Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., and many millions more throughout the world watched the parade on television as the Fort Dodge Lanciers Drum and Bugle Corps performed, representing Iowa and serenading JFK with “Hail to the Chief” in front of the reviewing stand during the 2 1/2-hour parade on Jan. 20, 1961.

How vastly different will be today’s inauguration ceremonies for Joe Biden when he is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

Security concerns stemming from the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol and health concerns from the raging COVID-19 virus have resulted in limited, mostly virtual ceremonies today and 25,000 National Guard troops will be in place to prevent disruption.

No bands and marching units from each of the 50 states as there were in 1961. Instead of the traditional inaugural parade, the Bidens will arrive at the White House after the swearing-in ceremony with a presidential escort consisting of representatives from every branch of the military. A “virtual parade across America” showcasing communities across the country will be telecast.

Back in 1960, the inauguration parade and ceremonies were televised by the three major television networks – ABC, CBS and NBC. (And what Lancier can forget that NBC cut to a commercial break as the corps neared the reviewing stand!) Today, the inauguration ceremony will be aired on all the major US media networks, including ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, MSNBC, and PBS. It will also be live-streamed on BidenInaugural.org/watch, PIC social media channels on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch.

There was a military presence at the JFK parade 60 years ago, but for a far different reason. Some 5,000 soldiers were called to duty to clear the parade route of a heavy overnight snowfall so that the Lanciers and scores of other marching units could perform.

One of the highlights of the trip for the Lanciers, made up of boys and girls 11 to 16 years of age, was getting to tour many of Washington’s major attractions. Today, those sites are closed to the public for security reasons.

They were kids – and kids will be kids. They stayed in a downtown hotel close to the White House and for fun one night, dropped water balloons from their rooms on cars below. They figured a way to put a Lanciers hat on the head of President Lincoln when visiting the Lincoln Memorial. Today, no way! Such actions would be greeted with zero tolerance in these troubled days. And when’s the last time you stayed in a major hotel where the room windows would open?

The Lanciers who marched on that special day in 1961 are in their 70s now. Some are deceased and one of the adults alive from that time is Albert Habhab – then mayor of Fort Dodge and long retired as a district court judge and state appellate court justice. He’s 95, played an instrumental role in assisting fund raising for the trip, and remembers the day fondly.

“It was a special moment in Fort Dodge’s history,” he said.

Those former Lanciers who tune in to ceremonies today likely will be saddened that the inaugural events in Washington are so drastically changed and that young people won’t get the chance to perform on a world stage like they did.

After all, for those Lanciers and the city of Fort Dodge, it was a memory – a march – to remember for a lifetime.

Paul Stevens is a former Fort Dodge resident and a retired bureau chief for The Associated Press.

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