The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 10, 2012

Honoring heroes

Across U.S., Veterans Day commemorations under way

— Saturday marked the first of what will be three days of Veterans Day commemorations across the United States.

The holiday falls on a Sunday, and the federal observance is on Monday. It’s the first such day honoring the men and women who served in uniform since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in December.

It’s also a chance to thank those who stormed the beaches during World War II – a population that is rapidly shrinking – with most of those former troops now in their 80s and 90s.

* * *

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, a steady stream of visitors arrived Saturday morning as the names of the 58,000 people on the wall were being read over a loudspeaker.

Some visitors took pictures, others made rubbings of names, and some left mementos: A leather jacket, a flag made out of construction paper, pictures of young soldiers and even several snow globes with an American eagle inside.

Alfred A. Atwood, 65, of Chattanooga, Tenn., was visiting the wall for the first time.

“I’ve just never been able to do it,” Atwood said of visiting the memorial, which was completed in 1982.

Atwood, who later became a police detective, said he knows a number of people on the wall, but the one name he wanted to find Saturday was his friend, Ronald L. Wright. The two had grown up together, and when Atwood decided to join the Marines at 18 there was no stopping Wright, Atwood said.

Wright died in 1968 when he stepped on a land mine, Atwood said, and Wright’s mother always blamed him for her son’s death. He’s never been able to bring himself to visit his friend’s grave, he said.

On Saturday, he found Wright’s name on panel 44E, row 60, and he ran his fingers over it, shaking his head.

“I’m still in the blocking stage. I want to go somewhere and sit down and think a minute,” he said after seeing Wright’s name.

“All I can see when I was touching and reading his name was his mother’s face telling me I got her son killed.”

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