A Time for Final Reflections
Parade Wraps Up Four-Day Salute to Veterans' Service and Sacrifice
By Fredrick Kunkle and Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; Page B01
A dwindling army of graying veterans with chests full of medals and fresh-faced teenagers in marching bands trooped through the heart of Washington yesterday in the city's first Memorial Day parade in more than 60 years.
Wrapping up four days of emotional and long-overdue tributes to the men and women who served in World War II, the three-hour parade crossed the Mall near the U.S. Capitol and headed west on Independence Avenue. A forbidding sky and spritzes of rain left the crowds sparse but game, with some places along the 12-block route lined two and three rows deep.
As the patter of drums and the skirl of bagpipes echoed among the monuments and museums, children waved small U.S. flags, old men stood in salute and many spectators converted newspapers into umbrellas. Numerous bands snapped to their routines in front of TV cameras, with the Capitol as a backdrop, or began playing in front of the reviewing stand near the soon-to-open National Museum of the American Indian at Fourth Street.
"Nobody wants war," said Evie Caldwell, 30, of Omaha, whose thoughts turned between soldiers called up in past wars and those serving in Iraq. "You still need to support them, no matter what."
Across the Potomac River, President Bush paid tribute to the nation's fallen soldiers in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
After receiving a jubilant, flag-waving ovation, Bush extolled the sacrifices made by 400,000 Americans of his father's generation and alluded to the sacrifices by U.S. forces in Iraq today.
"Since the hour this nation was attacked, we have seen the character of the men and women who wear our country's uniform," Bush said. "Because of their fierce courage, America is safer, two terror regimes are gone forever and more than 50 million souls now live in freedom."
In the afternoon, hundreds gathered for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which had been visited earlier by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). The names of 10 veterans who died from wounds suffered during that war were added to the black granite wall, bringing the total number of honored dead to 58,245.
During the ceremony, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge paid tribute to Army Capt. Humbert Roque "Rocky" Versace, of Alexandria, who was killed while in captivity in North Vietnam in 1965. In 2002, Versace became the first Army prisoner of war to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Women who served in World War II also were honored in a special ceremony. At the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, they shared stories about boot camp, island-hopping in the Pacific and training as aviators. They also paid respect to those who have recently died in service to the country.
Mary Bosveld, whose daughter Rachel, 19, was killed during a mortar attack in Iraq last fall, said her daughter wanted people to know why she was there.
"She used to tell me she served so that people at home could appreciate freedom," Bosveld said. "She used to say, 'Will you tell my story?' Little did I know I would be telling this story."
Yesterday's events ended a four-day tribute to the nation's military, featuring Saturday's dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall. The commemorations altered in tone with succeeding generations of veterans: from a nostalgic look back on a world war often cast as an unambiguously moral crusade, to the more restive legacy of the conflict in Vietnam; from the strains of Glenn Miller and big band swing to the pounding of Harleys and rock-and-roll.
For many of the World War II veterans, the tributes carried a poignant note of finality.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company