Trump’s parade dreams, Nixon’s new uniforms and the strange Iowa connection

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New Secret Service in 1970 (l), and military parade in North Korea, 2018. — illustration by Jordan Sellergren

The Washington Post reported this week that Donald Trump has been pressuring the Pentagon to stage a massive military parade through the streets of Washington D.C., the sort of public spectacle more common in dictatorial states than in democracies. But Trump isn’t the first president who wanted to give his administration a militaristic sheen, and an embarrassing example of this from an earlier president has a strange Iowa connection.

Like Trump, President Richard Nixon was a Republican. But Nixon, of course, was a famously petty man, endlessly ruminating over slights (real and imagined) and plotting vengeance against his enemies (real and imagined). A foul-mouthed bigot who deliberately appealed to the worst instincts of Americans to win votes, Nixon goes unmentioned by today’s Republicans as they loudly celebrate Trump’s leadership. But like Trump, Nixon had a sweet-tooth for military strong-man chic.

In 1970, at President Nixon’s request, the members of the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division (USSSUD) who guard the White House were given new military-style uniforms. The reaction to the uniforms was almost, well, uniform. And it was negative. The White House’s history site politely describes the reaction by noting the uniforms were compared to “the costumes of a ‘banana republic.’”

Embarrassed, Nixon ordered the new uniforms withdrawn. They spent 10 years in storage, before the federal government figured out what to do with them. That’s when Iowa comes into the story.

A Nixon era Secret Service uniform. — photo courtesy of the White House Historical Society

“The 32 gaudy uniforms, which caused the White House guards nothing but embarrassment, have now found their way to Iowa where, an official said, they will be sold to some small-time high-school band unable to outfit itself,” according to a May 1980 United Press International (UPI) story posted on Weird Universe.

The uniforms ended up being sold to Meriden-Cleghorn High School in Marcus, a town in northwestern Iowa. Marcus had a population of 1,206 in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“They will be fine for a band,” Thomas Roller, director of Iowa’s Federal Surplus Division, told the UPI. “But they did have sort of a Nazi connotation when they came out and that offended some people.”

Plans for Trump’s military parade have not yet been finalized, but some people are already offended by the idea. Almost 90 percent of respondents of a poll in the Military Times have said they oppose the random parade, and the city government of Washington D.C. is against it, warning that tanks and missile launchers will badly damage city streets.

Trump has been eager for a major military parade since he was president-elect. Speaking to the Post just prior to his inauguration, he said, “we’re going to display our military.”

“That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.”

Trump wanted a major military component to the parade on Inauguration Day, but eventually agreed to settle for five flyovers by military aircraft. Those flyovers never occurred, due to weather conditions. The day of Trump’s swearing-in was cold and overcast, with clouds obscuring the skies over D.C.

Hats from the Nixon-era Secret Service. — photo courtesy of the White House Historical Society

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