JESSICA GRESKO, KEVIN McGILL
WASHINGTON — Saturday marked the first of what will be three days of Veterans Day commemorations across the United States.
The holiday falls on a Sunday, and the federal observance is on Monday. It’s the first such day honoring the men and women who served in uniform since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2011.
It’s also a chance to thank those who stormed the beaches during World War II — a population that is rapidly shrinking with most of those former troops now in their 80s and 90s.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, a steady stream of visitors arrived Saturday morning as the names of the 58,000 people on the wall were being read over a loudspeaker.
Alfred A. Atwood, 65, of Chattanooga, Tenn., was visiting the wall for the first time.
“I’ve just never been able to do it,” Atwood said of visiting the memorial, which was completed in 1982.
Atwood, who later became a police detective, said he knows a number of people on the wall, but the one name he wanted to find Saturday was his friend Ronald L. Wright. The two had grown up together, and when Atwood decided to join the Marines at 18 there was no stopping Wright, Atwood said.
Wright died in 1968 when he stepped on a land mine, Atwood said, and Wright’s mother always blamed him for her son’s death. He’s never been able to bring himself to visit his friend’s grave, he said.
On Saturday he found Wright’s name on panel 44E, row 60, and he ran his fingers over it, shaking his head.
“I’m still in the blocking stage. I want to go somewhere and sit down and think a minute,” he said after seeing Wright’s name. “All I can see when I was touching and reading his name was his mother’s face telling me I got her son killed.”
At the National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass., on Cape Cod, about 1,000 people including Cub Scouts and Gold Star Mothers gathered on a crisp fall day for a short ceremony.
They then spread out to plant 56,000 flags amid the cemetery’s flat gravestones, transforming the green landscape into a sea of fluttering red, white and blue.
Until last year, the cemetery did not permit flags or flag holders on graves. That changed under pressure from Paul Monti of Raynham, Mass., whose son, Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, was killed by Taliban fighters while trying to save a fellow soldier in 2006 in Afghanistan. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor and is buried at the Bourne cemetery.
Thousands of spectators are expected to line Fifth Avenue for New York City’s Veterans Day Parade on Sunday.
Former Mayor Ed Koch is the grand marshal for the parade, which will run for 30 blocks, starting at 26th Street.