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Budget cuts ground military jets for the Dallas Veterans Day Parade

Junior ROTC cadets carry flags in the Veterans' Day Parade in Dallas, Texas, on Monday, November 11, 2002.

The four military jets seemingly appear out of nowhere, flying fast and furious over downtown Dallas. Then, in an instance, one peels off.

It’s that missing-man formation, symbolizing those who died for their country, that’s been one of the signatures of the Dallas Veterans Day Parade.

But federal budget cuts grounded the military group that would have performed this Veterans Day, and parade organizers had to scramble to find a replacement, said spokesman Bill Solemene.

Answering the call were four pilots from the Flight of the Phoenix Aviation Museum in Gilmer.

Stephen Dean, president of the East Texas museum, said the pilots were glad to fill the void for the Nov. 11 parade.

“It’s really neat to have an opportunity to do something that you love to do and have it mean so much to other people,” he said. “It gives you a double blessing.”

At past parades, members of the Euro-NATO Joint Pilot Training Wing from Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls flew the formation in T-38s, a supersonic jet trainer.

This year, museum pilots will fly vintage World War II planes — T-6s, known as Texans.

The single-engine planes earned the nickname because many of them were manufactured in Dallas, Dean said. When Britain’s Royal Air Force began using them, British pilots dubbed them “Harvards.”

When mandatory federal budget cuts started months ago, Solemene, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said he didn’t think the ceremony would be affected.

But when much of the federal government shut down in recent weeks, he said, he couldn’t get a definitive answer about the availability of the planes and pilots.

“We never had a yes,” he said. “We never had a no.”

Dean said that when the call for help came, the museum pilots quickly agreed. Though he’s the only pilot who is a veteran, “they all have the passion and the heart” to participate, he said. “We do it for the benefit of the veterans.”

The Phoenix pilots always have a busy schedule — they’re frequently called to perform at memorial services and special events. But the hangar phone has rung more often since budget cuts were implemented, Dean said.

In fact, the pilots are scheduled to fly at another Veterans Day event earlier that day. Rather than land and take off again from an airport in Lancaster, “we may just stay in the air,” Dean said.

Other civilians also have stepped up to fill the holes created by military cutbacks, Solemene said.

“We normally would have marching troops and an Army marching band,” he said. “The military contingent in the parade will be minimal.”

But at least 15 local high school bands will fill the air with the boom and bray of drums and brass. And several Junior ROTC groups will march in uniform.

Finally, in place of military equipment such as Humvees, civilian military equipment collectors will bring their Jeeps and vintage equipment to carry local dignitaries in the parade.

Most attendees probably won’t notice the changes in the 150-unit parade. The purpose of the event remains unchanged, Solemene said.

“To honor and pay tribute to those veterans and military that have served, and those who are serving, and those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, that’s the purpose of the parade,” he said.

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