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With their city on heightened security alert, thousands of New Yorkers lined 5th Avenue Monday to cheer a Columbus Day parade that officials said proved life goes on after last month's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The 57th annual parade was marked by the conspicuous absence of city firetrucks. There also were no firefighters or police officers among the marchers--they still are grieving colleagues killed in the towers' collapse. And the crowd was far lighter than the half a million people who usually attend.
Even so, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said the procession demonstrated the city's resolve not to "let terrorism hinder us." He urged residents not to be "overwrought" by the presence of extra police and National Guard troops throughout the city.
"The reality is that there's extra security because the country is engaged in a military action." Giuliani said. "People should calm down, relax, be brave and . . . go about their lives."
The mayor has said that 4,500 National Guard troops and extra police officers are stationed around the city to guard against any potential terrorist strikes in retaliation for the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan. He declined to name the points of heightened security, but more soldiers in camouflage could be seen over the weekend at the World Trade Center site, at local airports and even at the walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge.
At a press conference after the parade, Giuliani declined to say whether the city has a mass evacuation plan in the event of another attack. "Why do we want to frighten people that much?" he said.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the extra security, especially at airports, is the price we pay for living in the modern world. "But that doesn't mean you lock yourself in your house and never come out again," she said. "That's no way to live."
That sentiment was echoed by spectators along the parade route, which stretched more than 30 blocks up 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan, passing by St. Patrick's Cathedral and shops such as Cartier and Gucci.
Ida Antisio, 67, of Brooklyn, held a small poster of an American flag and whooped her approval, at one point leading a cheer when out-of-town firefighters came into view.
"We want to show those bozos over there [in Afghanistan] that we're not going to be quiet here," Antisio said. "We are proud of who we are."
The theme of the parade was "Honoring America," and the distinctly patriotic flavor mingled with the traditional Columbus Day salute to many New Yorkers' Italian heritage. For instance, a woman on a float sponsored by Medaglia D'Oro coffee made her way up 5th Avenue belting out "God Bless America."
The famed Radio City Rockettes dressed in blue soldier outfits with white stars across the front, while various branches of the military featured marching units in dress uniform.
Missing Monday were the usual units of marching and waving city firefighters and police officers, as well as their firetrucks and police cars. The city ran one firetruck and an emergency medical vehicle symbolically in their place. Firefighters from several Long Island departments appeared in their stead and drew applause.
New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen explained that the city's firefighters weren't up to celebrating. "It's ready to serve," Von Essen said of the department. "It's just not ready to rejoice yet."