Nightly News   |  January 28, 2012

America’s heartland welcomes home troops

When U.S. combat troops came home from Iraq, there was little public fanfare. Today in St. Louis, a crowd estimated at about 100,000 tried to change that thanks to a grassroots effort. NBC's John Yang reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as the last american troops left iraq late last year, we saw a lot of heart warming gatherings at airports and military bases across the country. but what we didn't see were the big ticker tape parades like they used to do at the end of a war. but two friends from st . louis decided to change that. starting a grass roots campaign on facebook and it culminated today with a rousing welcome home . here's nbc's john yang .

>> reporter: today america's heartland answered the call. st . louis held the nation's first parade to mark the end of the nine-year u.s. military mission in iraq . new york city said there won't be a parade any time soon like the one after the first gulf war in 1991 . pentagon officials say it would be premature with troops still in afghanistan. but in st . louis, friends tom appelbaum and craig schneider disagreed.

>> there was this like national conversation in the media about should we or shouldn't we have a parade for the iraq vets, and that was like the first thing, like, well, that's silly. of course they deserve a parade.

>> that was less than a month ago. they started a facebook page and harnessed the power of social media .

>> we didn't do this. we put up a call for help . at first the city rallied and then the country rallied.

>> reporter: tens of thousands lined the main thoroughfare to salute hundreds of thousands from across the country. it had a home spun feel. from the crowd, heart felt thanks.

>> i think you need to say thank you to the people protecting our country.

>> reporter: service members were grateful too.

>> it's something we'd like to see for everybody to remember the sacrifices.

>> reporter: for those who lost loved ones it was a bittersweet day. edward forrest sr.'s son died during his third tour of duty in iraq .

>> eddie's parade. that's what i call this.

>> reporter: more than marking the service members' return organizers hope today will focus attention on the groups serving their need now that they're back home. this man lost both his legs when his army humvee hit an ied and he got a segue while in rehab.

>> to take the trash out felt good.

>> reporter: and rick radford has flown home after serving in iraq .

>> you can drop me in any city in the united states , because i was home.

>> reporter: today he was touched by the outpouring of his hometown.

>> completely overwhelmed.

>> reporter: john yang , nbc news, st .