Pinky Kravitz had a dream.
Kravitz has had many dreams, actually — the Boardwalk Empire facade, the lowering of those pesky dunes — but his vision for a grand armed forces parade to complement the Atlantic City Airshow was a particularly ambitious dream, one that finally came to fruition last year when more than 900 people made their way down the Boardwalk under a increasingly heavy downpour.
This year, Kravitz said, the second annual parade will be bigger and better, with more floats, more bands, more flags, and even more grand marshals. What Kravitz said was already a larger parade than the last Miss America Parade in 2004, with a line of march 120 units long, has now grown to 144 units, complete with Navy SEALs and the U.S. Navy Band from Annapolis, Md.
“I’m thrilled, I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Kravitz, a Press of Atlantic City columnist and radio host on WOND. “People jumped on the bandwagon.”
Kravitz and the parade committee raised $25,000 to create last year’s parade; they had some left over to add to this year’s haul, which Kravitz expects to equal or exceed last year’s amount. Each of the six high school bands scheduled to appear — there were none last year — will receive $500, Kravitz said, while the committee itself will pay for three new floats in 2012; the committee had two last year.
“The nice thing is, people now want to be a part of it,” Kravitz said. “And more veterans want to be a part of it.”
Kravitz himself was grand marshal in 2011 — “It was my idea, and I was in charge,” he explained — and he was asked to serve in that same role this year, he said.
“But I said no,” he said. “I came up with the idea that the grand marshals should be (high)-ranked officials of each of the services.”
Representing the Army is Major Gen. William A. Matz; Rear Adm. Mark Buzby for the Navy; two women from the Air Force, Col. Ann Logan and Col. Barbara Regan; Col. Alan Smith from the Marine Corps; Capt. William A. Kelley of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I’m very, very honored to be asked to be in the parade,” Matz said. “I was in last year’s parade, and I thought it was very successful. We rode in the rain the entire time. I was drenched, but that didn’t seem to bother anybody. ... I think people appreciated seeing vets, the American flag and patriotism all along the Boardwalk.”
Buzby, a former city resident, said he was “humbled to return to my hometown and represent our Navy and military in this year's parade as a grand marshal, and I encourage (local residents) to join me in this time-honored tradition.”
Also, 92-year-old Bill French of Hamilton Township was a just-announced late addition. French was recently awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his service with the black Montford Point Marines unit during World War II
Even the periphery of the parade is getting an upgrade, Kravitz said.
“Number one, 5,000 American flags made available for free by the Atlantic City Alliance will be distributed around the Boardwalk,” he said. “Second, for the first time there will be a reviewing stand, right across from Boardwalk Hall at Kennedy Plaza.”
The grand marshals will complete their trip down the the Boardwalk, Kravitz said, “and when they finish they’ll be escorted back to Boardwalk Hall and will watch the rest of the parade from the reviewing stand. They’ll get to see three-quarters of the parade.”
Putting all of this together has not been easy, though.
“It’s a bear,” said organizer Charlie Coyle, who has been tweaking the ever-growing lineup. “The staging area will stretch from the Taj Mahal to Revel, in two lanes. We’ve got 21 military units, 21 floats, 40 units of fun stuff, like Smokey Bear, Cha-Cha the Tree Frog, and a bunch of beautiful girls and bands and all that.”
Even writing all of this down and distributing the lineup list has been complicated, as Coyle’s email was on the fritz for much of last week.
“I just left Staples,” Coyle said. “I ran off one thousand copies (of the lineup). There’s always somebody looking to get in at the last minute — but we’ll roll with it.”
The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, meanwhile, even came up with a logo for the parade — “It really got me,” Kravitz said of his first reaction —complete with a silhouetted serviceman walking on the Boardwalk in front of an American flag.
For the ACCVA, the parade “has been a welcome addition to the excitement surrounding the Atlantic City Airshow,” ACCVA President Jeff Vasser said. “This is a great event and gives visitors another reason to come to Atlantic City and extend their visit for a few days,” Vasser said. “The businesses along the Boardwalk always benefit from a parade, and this is no exception.”
Of course, organizers aren’t forgetting the real reason for the parade. This year, Army Tech. Sgt. Harold R. Brown — the first Atlantic City resident to die in World War II — will be honored with a riderless horse at the head of the parade.
Brown, who has a park named for him on Baltic Avenue, “was an African American in the infantry, and if you know anything at all about World War II, (that) was a very rare thing in that era,” Kravitz said.
A banner with Brown’s name will be draped over the horse, which will be escorted by a service member.
Kravitz is estimating “tens of thousands” will see the parade, but there remains one matter in question — the weather. Will it rain again, or will this year’s parade be draped in sunshine?
Kravitz, for his part, doesn’t think it matters too much.
“The interesting thing is, 90 percent of the people stayed (last year), even in the rain,” Kravitz said. “They were so caught up, they just kept saying thank you, and God bless you, to all our veterans.”
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