VP lays wreath on Tomb of the Unknowns for Veterans Day
The troops marched in to shouted commands, their movements synchronized. They stop, then near silence — not a sound but the wind. A series of 19 ear-splitting cannon blasts shattered the air as Vice President Joe Biden stepped up to shake hands with Major General Karl Horst.
Welcome to Veterans Day at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, where more than 300,000 U.S. veterans are buried. On November 11 (11/11) each year, Americans honor their troops, especially remembering those who have died serving their country.
"Men [and women] serve their country and put their lives up on the line to keep you free," Dennis Portwood, 70, of Frederick, Maryland, told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.
Portword, who spent six years in the U.S. Coast Guard, joined a crowd of veterans who attended the annual ceremony. This year, Vice President Biden laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns, taking the place of the President who is at an international economic summit in Japan. The Tomb represents all the Americans who have died in battle, but could not be identified.
"War is not something we want to do," said Norm Henninger, 56, a Navy veteran from Ohio. As past national commander of the Army-Navy Union, Henninger helped plan the event, designed to "honor the nation's veterans for their service."
The U.S. Army band played the national anthem and a member of the band, Master Sergeant Allyn Van Patten, played Taps. Leading the band was Sergeant Major Mitchell Spray, 51. Spray was hard to miss with his 17-inch-high bearskin hat atop his head, making him 7 feet, 9 inches tall.
Leading the band on Veterans Day is a special honor, Spray said.
"It's very meaningful," he told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.
A bugler played Taps after Biden laid the wreath. Next door, at an open-air amphitheater, the Vice President saluted the veterans in a speech, especially those currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Only one percent of America is fighting these wars," Biden said. "One hundred percent of Americans owe them a thank you."
Veterans Day carries a special message, said Bob Cibik, 64, a former Marine sergeant who now teachers physical education in Ohio. He said that young people, even if they don't serve in the military, should volunteer to help their nation in other ways, like feeding the hungry.
"Freedom is not free," he said.
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