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Nation pays tribute to sacrifices
Master Sgt. Jason Young of Fairchild Air Force Base and his son Cooper, 3, place American flags next to graves of U.S. military veterans Sunday before the Veterans Day ceremony at Fort George Wright Cemetery in Spokane, Wash. (AP)
Monday, November 12, 2012
LOS ANGELES (AP) — From sea to shining sea, the nation paid tribute to its members of the armed services Sunday.
Citizens honored present and past servicemmembers both with somber traditions such as a Virginia wreath-laying ceremony attended by President Barack Obama to honor those who didn’t make it back from active duty, and more lighthearted perks including red-carpet treatment at Las Vegas casinos for those who did.
In California, a long legal case drew to a close as a war memorial cross that had been deemed unconstitutional was being resurrected Sunday in the Mojave desert, capping a landmark case for veterans fighting similar battles on public lands.
Sunday marked the official commemoration of Veterans Day, but the federal holiday will be observed Monday.
President Barack Obama laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and noted that this is the first Veterans Day in a decade with no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq, and that a decade of war in Afghanistan is coming to a close.
In a speech at the Memorial Amphitheater, he said America will never forget the sacrifice made by its veterans and their families.
“No ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake is enough to truly honor that service,” the president said, adding that the country must commit every day “to serving you as well as you’ve served us.”
He spoke of the Sept. 11 generation, “who stepped forward when the Towers fell, and in the years since have stepped into history, writing one of the greatest chapters in military service our country has ever known.”
Over the next few years, he said, more than 1 million service members will make the transition to civilian life. “As they come home, it falls to us, their fellow citizens, to be there for them and their families, not just now but always.”
Later, the president and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, greeted families in the cemetery’s Section 60, home to graves of service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In California, a war memorial cross that once stood on a rocky hilltop in a national park before being deemed unconstitutional and ordered removed was being resurrected in the stunningly stark Mojave desert, marking the end of a longstanding legal dispute that had become entangled in patriotism and religion.
Henry Sandoz, who cared for the original cross as part of a promise to a dying World War I veteran, will rededicate a new, 7-foot steel cross on the same hilltop. The site is now in private hands as part of a land swap with the National Park Service that ended the legal battle.
“Judges and lawyers may have played their roles, but it was the veterans who earned this memorial, and it is for them it rises once more,” said attorney Hiram Sasser of the Texas-based Liberty Institute, which represented veterans in the legal fight.
The settlement approved by a federal judge in April permitted the Park Service to turn over the acre of land known as Sunrise Rock to a Veteran of Foreign Wars post in Barstow and the Veterans Home of California-Barstow in exchange for five acres of donated property elsewhere in the 1.6 million acre preserve, about a four-hour drive east of Los Angeles.
The donated land was owned by Sandoz and his wife, Wanda, of Yucca Valley.
Sandoz has cared for the memorial as a promise to World War I veteran Riley Bembry, who with other shell-shocked vets went to the desert to help heal and erected a wooden cross on Sunrise Rock in 1934. It was later replaced with a cross made of steel pipes.
Then Sunrise Rock became part of the Mojave National Preserve in 1994, putting the Christian symbol on public land.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in 2001 on behalf of a retired Park Service employee who argued the cross was unconstitutional on government property because of the separation of church and state, and federal courts ordered it removed.
Congress stepped in and ordered the land swap in 2003, but the courts rejected the transfer. The issue made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in April 2010 refused to order the cross removed.
Storm-ravaged New York hosted the country’s largest Veterans Day parade with turnout sparse along portions of the 30-block route along Fifth Avenue.
Standing in warm fall sunshine, officials said veterans should be honored and remembered more than just one day a year.
“This nation has a special obligation to take care of you,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the crowd.
Several officials also made a note of mentioning Vietnam veterans. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.