The last time Raymond Boothe attended a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery he was a 17-year-old Navy musician just back from France. Boothe had been aboard the USS Olympia, a coal-burning trigate that had brought back the American Unknown Soldier at the end of World War I.
Yesterday Boothe, accompanied by his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Lila, returned to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the invitation of Rep. Clarence E. Miller (R-Ohio) and heard President Carter declare that the nation owes the Vietnam veteran "a special debt of gratitude."
Speaking on a crisp, autumn day to a large crowd in the Memorial Amphitheater, the President declared:
"My son Jack served in Vietnam. And although I came back from wars as something of a hero - although I was not a hero - my son came back unappreciated, sometimes scorned by his peer group who did not join in the conflict. And I think there is a special debt of gratitude on the part of the American people to those young men and women who served in Vietnam, because they have not been appreciated enough."
While most of the rest of the country was either relaxing or taking advantage of Veterans Day sales, the flag-waving crowd at Arlington seemed genuinely moved by the hour long ceremony.
"This is the very first time that a President and his family have come to Arlington to honor America's veterans on Veterans Day," Max Cleland, head of the Veterans Administration, told the crowd of about 2,000. Carter's wife, Rosalynn, and their daughter, Amy, also attended the ceremony.
The occasion also marked the third time a President has delivered the main Veterans Day speech. Previously, only Presidents John F. Kennedy and Gerald R. Ford had spoken at the ceremony, although other presidents have laid a wreath.
Many attending the ceremony also expressed appreciation that the Congress had agreed to once again observe the holiday on Nov. 11 starting next year. Forty-eight states already have gone back to that date. Only Utah and the District of Columbia observed the holiday yesterday, while Rhode Island will honor veterans on Nov. 7.
"It was ridiculous to change it in the first place," remarked Mary Ellen Phillips of Russellville, Ark., who has worked for years with veterans' groups.
"It was done strictly for commercial reasons, to make another long holiday weekend."
For Boothe, the USS Olympia crew member, yesterday's ceremony presented a sharp contrast from the once he had witnessed on Nov. 11, 1921.
"It was a simple ceremony," he said of the first one. "There was no tombstones or anything like there is now. There was just a simple grave with a marker on it."
"The military guards and the bands gave me quite a thrill," he said of yesterday's ceremony.
Boothe, who also served as an infantry captain during World War II, recalled that it had been raining hard that day 56 years ago. Not many people were at the cemetery but he remembered a group that had made a special effort to attend.
"A lot of poor mothers had paid their way, had spent their savings, to come here hoping that the soldier to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier might be their son who was missing in action," he said. CAPTION: Picture, Honor guard sergeant assists President Carter in laying wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier in ceremony yesterday in the amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery. By [WORD ILLEGIBLE] - The Washington Post