To many, Washington seems the most fitting place to observe Memorial Day

Some residents fled to the beaches for the holiday weekend, while others participated in parades. More than 250,000 flags were placed on graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

For some, it was their first time in Washington on Memorial Day. For others, it was an annual ritual, and to ask them why they came was to create a moment of baffled silence: Where else would you go on Memorial Day to honor America's fallen heroes?

Whether they were watching the wreath-layings at the National World War II Memorial or at Arlington National Cemetery, the observance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the parade down Constitution Avenue, the vibe was the same: warm gratitude from the crowds, proud nods and humble acknowledgments from those who served and made it back.

Many of those who roamed the District on Monday were veterans or their families. But many were not and came to pay tribute, even under a blazing nearly summer sun.

"It's just something you don't get to see all the time," said Valencia McIlwain, an intensive care nurse at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., who said she did not serve in the military. She was parked under a small umbrella as marching bands and military groups passed by.

"It's so America, to your heart," McIlwain said. "It's just a blessing people gave their lives for our country."

David Marable of Gaithersburg brought his wife, three teenage children and mother to the parade. "I wanted them to learn the purpose of Memorial Day," he said as a group of Civil War reenactors marched past, "and this is a great way to do it."

He never served in the military but wanted to honor those who have: "We were invited to a cookout, but we decided this was more important."

Similarly, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Phillip Link said he drove up from Richmond with his wife and son to honor his brother and father, who served in foreign wars. He said he lived in Loudoun County for eight years but never came into the city for Memorial Day. "It's something I've always wanted to do," he said, "to show our appreciation and pay our respects."

Even Brianna Kahane, the 8-year-old violin prodigy who played at the memorial observance there, leaned into a microphone in the middle of "Danny Boy" and said, "Thank you for all your service," eliciting several thousand "awwws" and smiles with her high-pitched tribute.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that the relationship between Americans and their armed services has come a long way since Vietnam. "Unlike Vietnam," Mullen said, standing in his gleaming dress whites before the memorial wall, "American men and women are so incredibly supportive of the military now."

During the Vietnam War, Mullen said, "we were unable to separate the politics from the people. . . . We must never allow America to become disconnected from her military. Never."

At the observance, the families of six troops whose names were recently added to the wall were honored. They were Cpls. John E. Granville, Ronald M. Vivona and Clayton K. Hough of the Marine Corps and Capt. Edward F. Miles, Sgt. Michael J. Morehouse and Lt. Col. William L. Taylor of the Army.

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