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‘Sacred Day’ Stirs Memories

Local vets, students remember fallen soldiers and comrades on Memorial Day.

Driven inside by the rain, veterans from Vietnam, Korea and World War II still observed Arlington’s Memorial Day tradition. As trumpeter Jack Turner played “Taps,” they stood, saluting the American flag.

Alongside, six wreaths honored Arlington sons and daughters who died in wartime.

Most years, the sound of the trumpet drifts over Clarendon Park, while local post members of American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars gather in front of the Clarendon War Memorial. Shortly after 1 p.m. on Monday, they filled an upstairs dining room at American Legion Post 139 on Washington Boulevard for the annual wreath laying — with a short delay in the actual laying of the wreaths at the foot of the memorial.

The move made little difference in the ceremony. Even inside, post commander Ron Miluszewski said, “this day is sacred with the presence of those who have gone before us.”

Not all ceremonies were indoors. At 11 a.m., veterans joined members of local Little Leagues and soccer teams for another wreathlaying ceremony, this time at the Cherrydale World War I memorial on Lee Highway.

Lacking some of the crowd, and the trumpeter, of the American Legion ceremony, the wreath laying still carried a solemn acknowledgement that Arlington soldiers died serving overseas.

Dedicated to seven Arlingtonians who died in World War I, the memorial also carries the name of John Lyons, namesake of VFW Post 3150. “Where ever your remains may rest, we render these solemn services unto you,” said post commander J. Gary Wagner.

<b>EVEN WITH NATIONAL</b> attention focused on the District this Memorial Day, many of the veterans and others at the VFW post Monday said they were more interested in honoring Arlington’s fallen soldiers.

“I came specially for Memorial Day,” not for the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, said Terry Carter, a Chandler, Ariz., resident. Carter, who served in Vietnam from 1966-1967, belongs to Arlington-area VFW Post 3150, and came to Arlington just for Monday’s ceremony.

Dedication ceremonies did bring more veterans to Arlington, though, and the VFW was ready for them, said post commander J. Gary Wagner. On Saturday and Sunday, the VFW Post held an open house and barbecue for visitors. “We get lots of vets in the area,” Wagner said.

They were drawn by the attention to the dedication, but also by knowledge that Americans soldiers, sailors and Marines are still dying overseas, said John Mallon. After serving in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War, Mallon settled in Arlington in 1953, and his loyalties lay with local ceremonies this Memorial Day.

But Mallon said he understood why so many people attended the official dedication of the World War II Memorial on Saturday. “They are due to what’s going on over there in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

<b>MEMORIALS TO SOLDIERS</b> killed in an ongoing conflict are appropriate, said Mallon. “It’s no different than what we do down here at the monument. People consider it a privilege to have their son or their daughter listed there.”

Controversy has attended memorials to soldiers killed in Iraq, on a broadcast of ABC’s “Nightline” and in the comic strip “Doonesbury.”

The real problem, Mallon said, is that students need to learn why soldiers died in past American wars. Americans served during World War II because of Pearl Harbor and the aggression of the German, Japanese and Italian armies, he said, and that should be the primary lesson in teaching World War II.

Some students at Arlington memorials hadn’t learned as much about the reasons for the wars, but they knew what they wanted to do on Memorial Day. Sara Levin and four former middle school classmates spent the night outside, sitting vigil at the Clarendon Memorial.

They were continuing a tradition started three years ago when Jeff Fishbein, their seventh grade social studies teacher at Williamsburg Middle School, took his class on a similar Memorial Day vigil.

Though they now attend different schools, Levin and her friends remembered that tradition fondly. “We heard they didn’t do it last year, and were kind of bummed,” said Levin. “We had a fun time, and it was something good to be doing on Memorial Day, not just watching TV.”

At the World War I memorial in the morning, Paul Munga, an H.B. Woodlawn sixth grader, came with his mother and fellow members of the Lightning youth soccer team sponsored by the VFW.

He hasn’t covered World War I in school yet, but Munga wanted to honor soldiers from that war and others. “Since it’s Memorial Day, I came to remember those who fought.”

He and classmates have spent time talking to VFW members and World War II veterans about their experiences, and about why they come to Arlington’s memorials every year.

“They honor their friends and comrades,” said Munga. “Sometimes they’re really sad, sometimes they’re happy. They have mixed feelings” about the day.