Veterans descend on D.C. to honor and remember

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Washington's memorial sites are packed this weekend as veterans and their families pay their respects to those who gave their lives for their country.

Many veterans visited multiple memorials, some acknowledging the risks others faced while they were spared.

"I was one of the fortunate ones," said Alexandria resident Marc Schie, who served in the Third Armored Division in the Army during the Vietnam War. Schie was sent to Germany instead of the front line.

His two daughters in tow, Schie made his annual visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday to honor "all those who have served from all the wars."

Army veteran Paul Sullivan, from Louisville, Ky., knows that he, too, was lucky. He was stationed in Kentucky during the Vietnam War. "I missed going by 21 days."

Steve Zerkle, a member of the Air Force security police in Vietnam, said honoring soldiers who died was his duty.

Zerkle is visiting from Hidden Valley, Ind., to participate in Monday's Rolling Thunder demonstration, when hundreds of people ride motorcycles to advocate for veterans issues and specifically to raise awareness about the prisoners of war who have been left behind over the years -- what is for Zerkle a personal cause. His father was a tail gunner on a B-17 in World War II and spent two years as a prisoner of war in Germany after being shot down.

For Brett Preston of El Paso, Texas, Memorial Day carries another kind of significance. On Thursday, Preston's uncle, a Navy commander on the U.S.S. Enterprise during the Vietnam War, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

While most visitors to the memorials were there to honor the past, Rusty Alt of Deshler, Ohio, visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial seeking insight into the future. Rusty, who is about to begin his senior year of high school, plans to join the Marines when he graduates. He came to the memorial "to see the stories of the people who went before me and see if I can learn from them," he said.

Korean and Vietnam War Veteran Gary, who declined to give his last name, said it is important to share his stories with people like Rusty. He stood below the flagpole at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Saturday regaling a steady crowd with tales of the front line in the Korean War and the effects the chemical known as Agent Orange had on his health.

He visits the memorial regularly to share his stories with anyone who wants to listen, to make sure they don't forget.

"A lot of people come here, they look at these statues and what do they see? They see statues," Gary said. "A lot of people refer to this as 'the forgotten war.'"

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner