The Woman on the Bench

She sat on a bench near Metro Center, sobbing. Her eyes were ringed red, and a crumpled tissue was in her hand.

"I miss my father," Mary Morphew said.

His name was Weldon Bailey "Jack" Morphew, and he died in 1971. He was a farm boy from Oklahoma, a good Southern Baptist, a Seabee who helped build air bases for the Navy in World War II.

His daughter had no ticket to the dedication. It did not matter to her. "I just wanted to see the vets, really," said Morphew, a District resident. "The memorial is fine, but these are the guys who did all the work."

-- Jason Ukman

The Competing VIPs

The day's VIPs were in the shuttle from Metro Center. It wasn't moving. The mood was antsy.

Was it an accident, an occupant asked.

Too much congestion, another offered.

Finally, about 11 a.m. and after idling for nearly half an hour, the reason for the delay rolled by.

A Washington motorcade, or the Real VIP.

"It's one of the important people," said shuttle driver Sharmel Lyles.

"Can't you tell them there are important people here?" retorted Sue Spaulding of Derwood.

As a streak of black vehicles passed by, Anthony Loven, a Navy military police officer escorting the veterans, said, "I think it's the president."

"I don't care who it is," said the exasperated shuttle driver. "They're holding up traffic."

-- Elaine Rivera

Dancing Into Another Era

The big-band sound boomed, and Bud and Georgie boogied, right there in Section 1. The past was suddenly present on the Mall, in sight and sound and movement.

A crowd gathered.

Bud Cunnally, 62, and Georgie Carter Krell, 72, were light on their toes. He was a volunteer working the dedication, retired from the Navy and dressed in whites. She is a past national president of the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization for those who lost sons and daughters in wars. Her son, Bruce W. Carter, died in Vietnam.

The dance in the aisle ended, and the former strangers were all smiles. "We did pretty good for old folks," Krell told Cunnally.

-- Manny Fernandez

An Homage in Cloth

There was the memorial on the Mall, and then there was the memorial on the matching T-shirts.

Sisters Cheryl Washburn and Suzy Borg wore their tribute on their backs. It was an old photograph of a young man in an Army uniform. "My dad, My hero," read the words across the top.

The memorial shirts were a surprise for their father, Bernardo Gonzalez Jr., 78, of Wyandotte, Mich. The sisters said he served from 1944 to 1946 in the Army's 77th Infantry and received a Purple Heart.

The T-shirts were a hit. Strangers took pictures of the two sisters, the daughters of the Greatest Generation. "I just think it was a long time coming," Washburn, 39 and an administrative assistant, said of the memorial on the Mall. "I know they've waited a long time for this."

-- Manny Fernandez

A Lesson in Freedom

Father and son snapped a photograph and were walking away when their subject, a former Navy coxswain, summoned them with a "Hey, come back!"

"Now I want you to know about me," Junius Mills, 80, insisted.

Paul Nelson and his son, Paul Jr., 6, of Brentwood, listened attentively to living history. Mills told them he was among the first black men to serve as a seaman in the Navy -- not as a "cook or steward that shined shoes."

"I hope he'll walk away with a better understanding of freedom," Paul Nelson said of Paul Jr.

For Mills, the day was in the lesson. "I try to get every black person to know what was happening," he said.

-- Jason Ukman

The Harleys Roared, Until . . .

The thunder rolled early along 18th Street and New York Avenue NW. Dozens of burly men with tattoos, some of them war veterans but not of the Big One, stood unceremoniously next to their idle Harleys. It was about 10:30 a.m. Then without warning they straddled their motorcycles, rumbled to life and rolled a right onto 18th Street.

But wait.

One of the hogs suddenly stopped, halting the noisy procession. The reason? Five gray-haired pedestrians, the guests of the day, were moving at a modest pace.

The leader of the loud pack smiled and didn't seem to mind.

-- Manny Fernandez

A Picture Worth Years of Words

The Vietnam vet recently found a picture of an old aircraft carrier in a stack of old photographs belonging to his father, who was in the Marine Corps during World War II.

The son, Bill Bunch, 56, asked about the photo. It is the aircraft carrier Yorktown, which sank during my war, said the father, Clarence Bunch, 80.

"He started talking," the son said.

The long-delayed talk was about World War II, something the father said he had avoided sharing because he "didn't want my children to live it."

It was his children who drove him from Nashville for the dedication.

-- Elaine Rivera

Tributes, in a Photo and in Flesh

Thomas Kane was killed when his bomber was shot down over Germany in 1945. It was in his memory that his brother, Donald Kane, also a veteran, attended the dedication.

This was the second mission for Donald Kane, 79. Five years ago, he traveled to the town in Germany, near Stuttgart, where the bomber crashed. He said he met a woman who as a child had kept a parachute from a downed plane. Years later, she made a wedding dress out of it. She showed him the picture to prove it.

But there was another tribute to Thomas Kane. He is Mark Kane, 42, his nephew and Donald Kane's son. Fresh from the war in Iraq, Lt. Col. Kane looked impeccable in his uniform.

He wore it at the request of his father.

"They set a good example of selflessness and standing up for what's right," the younger Kane said of the World War II generation.

-- Elaine Rivera

A Lifetime Later

Victor Bast was a 20-year-old teacher in rural Wisconsin when he enlisted. As a member in the 56th Fighter Group, he flew 63 missions over Germany in P-47 Thunderbolts.

He was decorated. The war ended.

Three days after he returned to Wisconsin, he was back in the classroom, in the same school district.

A lifetime passed.

Bast, now 81, sat in a folding chair near the stage. The dedication was over. What was he thinking? "The fact that so many of us never made it," he said.

On his head was a cap from the 56th Fighter Group Association, a WWII memorial pin adorning the front. He arrived as part of a six-bus caravan from Wisconsin, and a long ride home awaited.

But it turns out he has a new life -- and a new wife. Newlyweds of only five months. Like him, she had been married for half a century. Like him, she had six children.

So it's back home, to Oconto Falls.

"We're starting a new story," Bast said.

-- Manny Fernandez