Americans from Washington to California were marking Memorial Day with parades, barbecues and somber moments of reflection in an annual holiday infused with fresh meaning by the approaching 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The anniversary was to be incorporated into the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, where special tributes were scheduled for the first responders to the attacks and to the relatives of the thousands killed. Actor Gary Sinise, a veterans advocate who played Lt. Dan in the film “Forrest Gump,” and Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean and Vietnam wars were among the guests.
The public holiday recognizes America’s war dead, though the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks adds even more meaning for those who were the first to help when the attacks happened.
Sgt. James Patrick McMichael of the Arlington County, Va., sheriff’s office was part of a team of first responders to the Pentagon. He said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder about two years after the attacks and that, even though the looming anniversary was dredging up painful memories, it was still critical that the public remember what occurred.
A commercial jet crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, killing 184 people at the sprawling Defense Department headquarters.
“Reliving the event is not something that I look forward to, but I don’t think it should be something that’s not brought up to the public,” he said. “I don’t think people should forget about what occurred.”
President Obama was participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay, but we can honor their sacrifice,” Obama said at a Memorial Day service at the cemetery. “And we must.”
Meanwhile, U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan paused to remember the fallen in Memorial Day services, with some praying and holding flag-raising ceremonies to recognize the more than 1,400 who have been killed in combat there since the war began a decade ago.
The holiday also comes less than a month after Navy SEALs shot and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Obama plans to draw down U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan beginning in July, while NATO has committed to handing over control of security in the country to Afghans by 2014. For now, though, the war continues.
“We reflect on those who have gone before us. We reflect on their service and their sacrifice on behalf of our great nation,” said Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Craparotta, who commands a Marine division in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. “We should also remember those serving today who embody that same commitment of service and sacrifice. They are committed to something greater than themselves and they muster the physical and moral courage to accomplish extraordinary feats in battle.”
story by: Eric Tucker
photo courtesy of: Jacquelyn Martin