Disneyland Honors the Men and Women of Desert Storm – Thirty Years Ago at Disneyland

This month’s entry is quite appropriate as we enter the Fourth of July weekend. Disneyland has never shied away from patriotic spectacle. Indeed, Walt Disney is quoted as saying, “If you could see in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them and my spine is growing this red, white and blue stripe.”

It is likely that many today, accustomed to the rather divisive direction our society has taken in recent years, will assume that a big patriotic tribute was a slam dunk thirty years ago. But the spectacle we are discussing was  something of a preview of things to come. Disneyland’s tribute to the Men and Women of Desert Storm ran from mid-April to mid-June, meaning it lasted almost as long as the conflict itself. (For the record, Desert Storm took place over 43 days, commencing on January 17, 1991.) It was not without controversy, but that was certainly not on anyone’s minds during the late spring and early summer months of 1991.

Disneyland was not alone in honoring military personnel who had participated in the liberation of Kuwait. So many municipalities were clamoring to offer their gratitude that the military started to find it difficult to fill all requests. Disneyland and Walt Disney World managed to get all the service members they requested— a free trip to the Happiest Place on Earth was apparently quite an inducement.

The tribute took the form of a cavalcade that made its way down the entire parade route. The Disneyland band provided appropriate live music.

Next up guests were treated to an enthusiastic troupe of Disneyland performers, tearing up the street with their usual high energy and infectious enthusiasm. Disney characters were also on hand, riding on a multi-level float with the real stars of the cavalcade, the Men and Women of Desert Storm!

You had to look closely to see just who was taking the trip with Mickey and the gang. Disneyland thoughtfully provided title cards with names, rank and branch of service.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Disneyland cavalcade without a flurry of confetti and streamers. To honor the men and women of Desert Storm, these were appropriately red, white and blue.

Before closing this month’s chapter of Thirty Years Ago at Disneyland, there is one other memorable experience from June, 1991 I would like to share. It’s even related to the presence of the military in the park. It’s one of those rare celebrity sightings, made even rarer in the days before social media tracked everything that was happening in the parks in real time.

Say hello to a very young Robin Williams! Just a month away from his 40th birthday, he was accompanied by his second wife and two very young children. They appeared rather suddenly on the platform at Main Street Station, and were immediately whisked to the Lilly Belle Parlor Car for a private trip around the park’s “grand circle tour.” As their host busied himself unlocking the door, Williams stopped directly in front of me and, in true Los Angeles celebrity fashion, stared straight ahead without in any way acknowledging that the star of Popeye, Moscow on the Hudson, Dead Poets Society, and Good Morning, Vietnam was standing just two feet away!

As we made our trip around the park, the rest of us honored our part of the Los Angeles social contract by not peering through the windows at the front of the parlor car. But when we arrived back on Main Street (you bet I made the full trip!), one of the passengers, a veteran of the Vietnam war,  briefly stopped Williams to thank him for his appearance in Good Morning, Vietnam. My final memory of the encounter was seeing Robin Williams warmly shaking the man’s hand to thank him for his service.