Memorial Day Comes As Troops Fight In Afghanistan

President Obama places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. i i

President Obama places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

President Obama places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Americans from Washington to California were marking Memorial Day with parades, barbecues and somber moments of reflection in an annual holiday infused with fresh meaning by the approaching 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The anniversary was to be incorporated into the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, where special tributes were scheduled for the first responders to the attacks and to the relatives of the thousands killed. Actor Gary Sinise, a veterans advocate who played Lt. Dan in the film "Forrest Gump," and Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean and Vietnam wars were among the guests.

Members of Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) stand during the  playing of the National Anthem at Arlington national Cemetery. i i

Members of Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) stand during the playing of the National Anthem at Arlington national Cemetery. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP
Members of Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) stand during the  playing of the National Anthem at Arlington national Cemetery.

Members of Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) stand during the playing of the National Anthem at Arlington national Cemetery.

Charles Dharapak/AP

The public holiday recognizes America's war dead.

President Obama was participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

"Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay, but we can honor their sacrifice," Obama said at a Memorial Day service at the cemetery. "And we must."

Dozens of official and unofficial ceremonies and veterans reunions dotted the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Joseph Scholle was a marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He comes to Washington D.C. twice a year to remember all who have died but especially his friends. He said he often wonders about what life his friend Robert Terry would be living now.

Ken Melvoen was a helicopter crew chief with the first Air Calvary. He says fro him Memorial Day is very personal. Melvoen did two tours in Vietnam before returning to Marshfield, Massachusetts. Melvoen, a retired firefighter, says it's important to remember all the men and women who died in service to country.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan paused to remember the fallen in Memorial Day services, with some praying and holding flag-raising ceremonies to recognize the more than 1,400 who have been killed in combat there since the war began a decade ago.

"We reflect on those who have gone before us. We reflect on their service and their sacrifice on behalf of our great nation," said Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Craparotta, who commands a Marine division in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. "We should also remember those serving today who embody that same commitment of service and sacrifice. They are committed to something greater than themselves and they muster the physical and moral courage to accomplish extraordinary feats in battle."

NPR's Sonari Glinton reported from Washington D.C.

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