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Kelly leads heroes

Arguably, the parade was never in safer or more experienced hands.

As he himself pointed out more than once, Kelly is a veteran of Fifth Avenue on March 17th.

He has policed the parade, and has marched in it as police commissioner.

Being grand marshal then, was like green icing on a very big cake, one that Kelly ate up in block-long slices.

Perhaps Kelly had issued an order to the weather gods, or maybe it was just Kelly's luck, but the parade was bathed in warm sunshine from start to finish as line after line of marchers, with Laois the leading county, proceeded northwards past St. Patrick's Cathedral and the reviewing stands to the finishing line at 86th Street.

And it was at St. Patrick's that the day's ceremonies began with Mass officiated for the first time on the patron saint's day by Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The archbishop is not apparently a nervous type, but he must have been a little edgy as the Mass starting time came and went with no sign of his number one congregant.

As it happened, and as reported in some detail the next morning by Michael Daly of the Daily News, Kelly is a man born to double duty, and then some. On his way to St. Patrick's he had witnessed an accident in which a woman was knocked down and badly injured by a cyclist.

Kelly, in his grand marshal regalia, tended to the woman until an ambulance arrived.

By contrast, the later walk up the avenue was incident free. The crowds were big, enthusiastic and clearly liberated by the light and warmth on a day that just roared spring.

Again, as in recent years, it was not lost on spectators that we are a country at war and the cheers for the men and women in uniform were duly loud and sustained.

Shannon Schweitzer, named, she said, after the river, was especially cheering her two sons, Thomas and Patrick Adams.

"Thomas is a firefighter and Patrick is in the army," said the Chicago-born Shannon proudly.

Patrick had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and could well end up in one or other place again, so Shannon was savoring every moment of having her two boys not just on American soil, but on the storied asphalt of Fifth Avenue with its painted green line.

As is always the case, the parade, this year dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America and with Irish government minister Barry Andrews as an honored guest, stepped off at precisely 11 a.m. And as is always the case, it looked incapable of starting just five minutes before that hour.

But there is method behind the apparent confusion and an enthusiasm that literally knows no bounds, chronological or otherwise.

So when the hour struck eleven, the Fighting 69th was already marching, a phalanx in camouflage fatigues striding to the strains of "Garryowen."

Looking like he could, or should, be similarly attired, Ray Kelly waited in his top hat and tails. But no matter what the outfit or uniform, Kelly looks at home in the vanguard of a column.

And this was the ultimate column: Name: the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade. Rank: number one in the world. Serial number: 249.

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