Correction to This Article
A photo caption incorrectly described Joe DiTondo's role in the Vietnam War. He was an adviser with the 7th Special Forces.

Vietnam Memorial Turns 25

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thousands of graying Vietnam veterans, many clad in jungle boots and old fatigues, marched down Constitution Avenue yesterday to mark the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and to pay tribute to the more than 58,000 war dead enshrined on the Wall.

Their numbers thinned by age, their marching cadence uneven, the men and women who served in the war paraded to the rousing music of Sousa and the calls of "Thank you!" and "Welcome home!" and "Hoo-Ah!" from the crowds lining the sidewalk.

They came from across the country and from all lines of work, many now retired. And they carried flags and banners or wore jackets and T-shirts proclaiming where and when they had served. The names of such battles as Khe Sanh and Ia Drang, once places of death and horror, were emblazoned on signs and jackets. And many marchers sported the insignia of their old division: the Americal's white stars on a blue field, or the 1st Cavalry's black horse's head on a yellow shield.

There were marchers who had been soldiers, Marines, medics, nurses, Red Cross volunteers, airmen who handled fierce attack dogs, sailors who manned heavily armed harbor patrol boats and simple "grunts."

There was also a large contingent of graying South Vietnamese army veterans, who had survived terrible battles and marched in jaunty berets with their distinctive yellow flag with three red stripes.

Amid damp and overcast weather, the parade stepped off at 11:15 a.m., moved west on Constitution Avenue to the calls of "Forward, march!" and ended at 18th Street about 1:30 p.m.

Along the way, the marchers waved to the crowds, smoked cigars, laughed, hugged and, more than three decades after the close of the war, wept over the memory of those named on the Wall.

Hundreds walked the few blocks to the Wall when the parade ended to listen to a reading of the names or to touch the name of a comrade engraved in the stone. The site was thronged late into the afternoon, and here and there a veteran could be seen caressing the black surface or simply overcome with emotion.

A formal rededication ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. today, with former secretary of state and Vietnam veteran Colin L. Powell as the keynote speaker.

There were many canes and limps and wheelchairs among those who paraded yesterday. The same was true when the Wall was dedicated in 1982, just seven years after the war ended.

A polished black granite chevron set into the earth near the Lincoln Memorial, the memorial was built with money raised by the Washington-based Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, co-founded and headed by Jan C. Scruggs of Bowie.

Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran who had been wounded in battle, came up with the idea in 1979 and with a team of other veterans raised $8.4 million for the project in three years.

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