From sea to shining sea, the nation paid tribute to its members of the armed services Sunday, both with somber memorials to honor those who didn’t make it back from active duty and more lighthearted perks, including red-carpet treatment at Las Vegas casinos for those who did.
Sunday marked the official commemoration of Veterans Day, but the federal holiday will be observed today.
At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, President Barack Obama placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Sunday, noting that this is the first Veterans Day in a decade with no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq, and that a decade of war in Afghanistan is coming to a close.
In a speech at the Memorial Amphitheater, he said America will never forget the sacrifice made by its veterans and their families.
“No ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake is enough to truly honor that service,” the president said, adding that the country must commit every day “to serving you as well as you’ve served us.”
Later, the president and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, greeted families in the cemetery’s Section 60, home to graves of service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In California, a war memorial cross that once stood on a rocky hilltop in a national park before being deemed unconstitutional and ordered removed was being resurrected in the stunningly stark Mojave desert, marking the end of a longstanding legal dispute that had become entangled in patriotism and religion.
Henry Sandoz, who cared for the original cross as part of a promise to a dying World War I veteran, will rededicate a new, 7-foot steel cross on the same hilltop. The site is now in private hands as part of a land swap with the National Park Service that ended the legal battle.
“Judges and lawyers may have played their roles, but it was the veterans who earned this memorial, and it is for them it rises once more,” said attorney Hiram Sasser of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, which represented veterans in the legal fight.
Storm-ravaged New York hosted the country’s largest Veterans Day parade with turnout sparse along portions of the 30-block route along Fifth Avenue.
Standing in warm fall sunshine, officials said veterans should be honored and remembered more than just one day a year.
“This nation has a special obligation to take care of you,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the crowd.
Several officials also made a note of mentioning Vietnam veterans. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
One Vietnam vet, 66-year-old Laurence Lynch of New York, said simply, “It’s about time. It’s about time.”
Along a number of blocks of the parade route, just a few dozen spectators were lined along the barricades.
Candice and Jeffrey Stark stood nearly alone on one stretch, waving tiny American flags. “We are shocked,” Candice Stark said. “Very disappointed and terribly appalled. Don’t get me started!”
The Long Island couple was among the many residents displaced by the storm. The military has been very visible in the Sandy cleanup, so the Starks said they went to the parade to show their appreciation.
Chicago’s National Veterans Art Museum unveiled its latest exhibit, Welcome Home.
The installation is part of a series that examines the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the rising need for mental health care for returning veterans.