When the band started playing for Monday’s Memorial Day service and the American flag was lowered to half-staff, Navy veteran J.W. “Jim” Harper was overwhelmed.
“You just feel goosebumpy all over,” he said.
Harper, who served on an ammunition ship during the Korean War, joined 200 or so people for the ceremony in Plano, one of thousands of observations across the nation.
“Don’t think for one minute that we, as Americans, were given prosperity, peace and freedom as a gift from our benevolent Uncle Sam,” Army Brig. Gen. Kathryn G. Carlson told the crowd at Plano. “The lives of these we memorialize today remind us that it was hard fought and bloodily won.”
Some 3,000 people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery as President Clinton placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, saying he was venerating “those who gave everything on behalf of our common good.”
Elsewhere, a more recent hard-fought battle stood in the way of Monday’s memorial.
At Grand Forks, N.D., where the Red River forced some 45,000 people from their homes last month, no visitors or observances were allowed at Calvary Cemetery because of flood damage. Some graves had collapsed and the force of the water toppled some large stone memorials.
“We want to repair this damage before we allow visitors into the cemetery for fear someone may be injured,” said Bob Norman, secretary of the Calvary Cemetery Association.
In Kansas City, Mo., veterans fired a rifle salute during a ceremony at the Liberty Memorial.
“It brings back memories of the things you went through, the people you knew, wondering what became of them,” said 76-year-old Leo Beeson, who watched the Kansas City ceremony and remembered his two years in the South Pacific during World War II.
Beeson recalled through tears the first night he spent on a dark beach during combat: “You heard moaning and crying and shelling, but you were in a foxhole and there was nothing you could do.”
Monday’s parade in Concord, Mass., drew just a fraction of the thousands who once came every year. An estimated 600 people turned out, compared to the 4,000 who came to the Revolutionary War town’s Patriot’s Day parade last month.
“I’m appalled everyone doesn’t turn out just for one day - one day a year for guys who gave their lives,” said World War II veteran Paul Dee, 74. “They forgot what the holiday means.”
Navy veterans rode a small boat out into Chesapeake Bay, off Annapolis, Md., to drop a wreath of red and white carnations onto the water in tribute to those who died at sea.
“We experienced the loss of friends. Going through the service, I’m inclined to think of those friends I lost,” John Quesenberry, 79, a retired radio man, said on the Chesapeake voyage. “You can’t blame the younger generation (for not remembering). You either live through it or you don’t.”
A similar ceremony took place on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, as about 300 World War II submarine veterans, widows and onlookers dropped 52 carnations into the bay, one for each of the subs sunk during the war.
In Dearborn, Mich., a ceremony honored a Vietnam veteran who had been missing since he was shot down on July 12, 1972. The remains of Air Force Capt. James Huard were returned earlier this year.
“It’s hard every time,” said Neil Huard, Huard’s brother. “Every one of these ceremonies is a difficult experience.”