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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Maxwell Cayot, 1, with mother Mary Cayot, is fascinated by the Fort Wayne Memorial Day Parade that was along Parnell Avenue on Monday morning.

Nation at war honors those 'willing to give their all'

AP
Volunteer Lewis Carlos Varon, of New York, pauses after saluting to a gravestone after adjusting the American Flag on the marker, one of many placed on graves at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Saturday, May 25, 2013. Members of the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and other volunteers placed the memorial flags on grave-sites for veterans of the Civil War, American Revolution, Spanish-American War, Korean and Vietnam wars to honor them for the Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | Associated Press
President Barack Obama participates in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.

Americans gathered at cemeteries, memorials and monuments nationwide to honor fallen military service members on Memorial Day, at a time when combat in Afghanistan approaches 12 years and the ranks of World War II veterans dwindles.

President Barack Obama laid a wreath Monday at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington.

"Let us not forget as we gather here today that our nation is still at war," Obama said.

"When they give their lives, they are still being laid to rest in cemeteries in quiet corners across our country, including here in Arlington," he said. He told the stories of three soldiers who had died. Each had been devoted to their mission and were praised by others for saving lives.

Obama said he worries that the country's servicemen and women aren't being fully appreciated in an era in which "most Americans are not directly touched by war." He said he couldn't explain that phenomenon but said it might have something to do with the all-volunteer military force and advanced technology that now permits the United States to accomplish some military missions with far fewer personnel.

He said that some troops and military families "mention to me their concern about whether the country fully appreciates" them.

Obama spoke on a sun-splashed morning at the amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery after he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. That was preceded by a playing of the "The Star Spangled Banner" and followed by "Taps."

In his speech, he said that Arlington "has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all ... to preserve and protect the land that we love."

He praised the selflessness that "beats in the hearts" of America's uniformed military troops.

Earlier in the morning, he and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a breakfast at the White House with "Gold Star" families of service members who have been killed.

Another wreath-laying ceremony was planned at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City. The park is a tribute to President Roosevelt's famous speech calling for all people to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

A soggy Monday did not stop Fort Wayne from honoring its heroes, as residents lined the parade route late this morning.

At the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, about 30 bicyclists clustered around World War II veteran and museum volunteer Tom Blakey, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division who jumped at Normandy on D-Day – June 6, 1944 – and in May 1945 helped liberate the work camp at Wobbelin in northwest Germany.

"Most of us wondered why we were there, killing people and being killed," he said. "We didn't do anything to deserve it. When we got to that camp and saw what was there, the lights came on."

The cycling group makes regular weekend training runs, and on Monday started a Memorial Day ride about seven miles away at the national cemetery in Chalmette, where the Battle of New Orleans – the last in the War of 1812 – was fought.

"I'm glad I took this ride to hear a personal story," Scott Gumina, 41, said. "Hearing one man's account of his personal experience was pretty impressive to me."

Across much of New England, several days of heavy rain gave way to sunny skies for parades in towns large and small.

In Portland, Maine, kids and even pets displayed the Stars and Stripes as veterans, youth groups law enforcement officials and civic organizations paraded to Monument Square to the tunes of a marching band, sirens from a police car and the rumble of motorcycles.

"It's a very important day, not only for the Veteran of Foreign Wars but every veteran organization, every branch of the service, and every patriot in general – every American. This day is hugely significant and should never be forgotten," said David Olson, 66, of Portland, the VFW's state senior vice commander.

He said he was pleased to see a large turnout of youngsters, both in the parade and along the parade route. "As they get older, they'll realize exactly why we do this," he said.

For some veterans, it was a somber event.

Richard Traiser, a Marine injured when his tank came under attack in Vietnam, helped deliver a three-volley salute with the Marine Corps League.

Memorial Day gives those who served an opportunity to get together and remember friends who didn't make it.

"I think about them a lot, especially the people I lost in my platoon," Traiser said. "A couple of kids were 19 years old. I don't dwell on it in a morbid way, but it's on your mind."

In Connecticut, a Waterford man who was killed in the Vietnam War was honored with a hometown park area named for him. Arnold E. Holm Jr., nicknamed "Dusty," was killed when his helicopter was shot down on June 11, 1972. A group of at least 100 dedicated the park this weekend.

In suburban Boston, veterans gathered in a park to mark Memorial Day this year rather than hold a parade because of failing health and dwindling numbers. The city of Beverly called off its parade because so few veterans would be able to march. The parade has been a fixture in the town since the Civil War.

In Atlanta, a dedication of the History Center's redone Veterans Park was scheduled for early evening. Soil from major battlefields will be scattered by veterans around the park's flagpole.

The holiday weekend also marked the traditional start of the U.S. vacation season. AAA, one of the nation's largest leisure travel agencies, expected 31.2 million Americans to hit the road over the weekend, virtually the same number as last year. Gas prices were about the same as last year, up 1 cent to a national average of $3.65 a gallon Friday.

Journal Gazette photographer Michelle Davies, Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this story.

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