November 11, 2012 in Nation/World

Veterans Day celebrations begin early

Associated Press
 

Saturday marked the first of what will be three days of Veterans Day commemorations across the United States.

The holiday is today, 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 fought 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.

Some visitors took pictures, others made rubbings of names, and some left mementos: a leather jacket, a flag made out of construction paper, pictures of young soldiers and even several snow globes with an American eagle inside.

Alfred 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.

• In New Orleans, a half-dozen women of various ages knitted intently near a pile of handmade scarves while frail, silver-haired men sat waiting for a chance to tell their war stories Saturday as tourists and veterans filed into the National World War II Museum.

The museum planned a series of events to celebrate the Veterans Day weekend.

The knitters had gathered to commemorate 1940s home-front efforts to supply World War II troops with warm socks and sweaters.

Nearby, Tom Blakey, 92, of New Orleans, sat behind a small table with grainy black and white photos of his younger self, one standing at ease in uniform in 1942. Also on the table were pictures of a bridge on the Merderet River in Normandy – a bridge that he and fellow members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne fought to secure as the D-Day invasion unfolded in 1944.

Blakey regularly takes part in oral history programs at the museum, an opportunity he relishes.

“What the hell else would I do with my life at this time?” he said.

• 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.

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