America Honors Its Troops on Memorial Day
America Honors Its Troops on Memorial Day
May. 27, 2003
TIMONIUM, Md. (AP) _ Americans across the country honored their war dead with ceremonies and soggy Memorial Day parades Monday, even as others celebrated the return of U.S. troops from the war in Iraq and paid tribute to those still serving abroad.
The memorials came on one of the most violent days for U.S. troops since the war in Iraq ended last month. An American soldier was killed in northern Iraq Monday and eight others were wounded in two separate attacks.
President Bush laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery as he paid tribute to those who died at war, noting particularly ``recent loss and recent courage'' in Iraq and Afghanistan.
``Today, we recall that liberty is always the achievement of courage and today we remember all who have died, all who are still missing and all who mourn,'' Bush said.
In New York, the wives of two Marine Corps pilots killed in Iraq dropped a Memorial Day wreath into the Hudson River at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum's annual ceremony.
For troops returning home, it was a day for celebration. At Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, families waited in the rain to welcome 2,300 Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the first major Marine Corps unit returning to the United States from combat in Iraq aboard three ships.
``It's good to see U.S. soil, really good,'' said Cpl. Travis Hoots of Roodhouse, Ill., who was greeted by his wife, Jamie, and their 7-month-old son.
``I spent a lot of nights thinking about what this day would be like,'' Hoots said as he looked at his new baby. ``I'm just sort of dumbfounded.''
Holiday events across the country were canceled Monday as stormy weather settled across nearly all corners of the United States. But thousands gathered under rainy or overcast skies to remember those who didn't make it home from war.
Army Spc. Donald Schafer was celebrating just being alive. The 23-year-old tank operator was traveling with a convoy of armored vehicles in Iraq on April 5 when his tank was hit by a rocket and caught fire. Schafer was shot in the arm.
``I could have been very well lying here with these gentlemen,'' he said at a Memorial Day service Monday in Timonium, Md., looking at the graves at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens. ``That's the key thing that keeps running through my mind. I could very well be lying here instead of celebrating (Memorial Day) with all these people.''
A light drizzle didn't stop thousands of people from gathering for a parade along flag-lined Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb in which about 30 percent of residents claim Arab ancestry.
Akram Al-Mohammed, who came to the United States from Iraq with his wife eight years ago, said attending the Memorial Day events was a way to say thank you to the soldiers who helped liberate his native land.
``We came to share the celebration together with the American people,'' Al-Mohammed said. ``This year we are very happy because our old president is gone. We've got freedom in our country.''
Thousands more turned out for the annual Memorial Day parade in Bloomington, Ill.
``I think after Sept. 11, the apathy has dropped and a lot more people have patriotism today, especially the young kids,'' Vietnam veteran Lynn Shindel said.
In Waterford, Conn., the parents of a Marine killed in Iraq who waited weeks to hear word about his fate went forward with a parade despite heavy rain. Paul and Tan Patchem, the parents of Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse, took part in a parade that wound through mostly empty, soaked streets.
At the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the widow and daughter of Air Force pilot Vincent J. Connolly participated in a somber ceremony, where an etching of Connelly's name was added to the black granite wall. Connolly was flying a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam when his plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile in 1966.
He was considered missing in action until 1974, when the military changed his status to killed in action. A friend of Connolly's noticed that the pilot's name was missing from the wall while visiting Philadelphia.
For people with loved ones still in Iraq or Afghanistan, the holiday was a time for contemplation. Kathryn Gerke of Powell, Ohio, whose son Patrick is in Kuwait as a lance corporal in the Marines, got more than 40 people with relatives overseas to fill a page of thoughts for the holiday.
The pages of handwritten missives, neatly typed poems and photographs of soldiers and their families were compiled into booklets to be sent overseas.
At the cemetery in Timonium, Schafer stood next to a wall with the names of 21 Maryland residents who have been killed by terrorists _ including victims in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and one who died in Afghanistan. He said his thoughts were with other members of his 3rd Infantry Division still stationed in Iraq.
``I just want them to come home,'' he said.