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Americans Gather to Mark Veterans Day

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Americans Gather to Mark Veterans Day

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Americans Gather to Mark Veterans Day

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

This Veterans Day, President Bush honored service members who've died in Iraq at an American Legion post in Waco, Texas. In Washington, thousands turned out to recall an earlier war. They gathered at an emotional rededication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall 25 years after it opened.

NPR's Allison Keyes was there.

(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Grace")

ALLISON KEYES: Bill Wigginton sat with his head bowed in the last row of seats in front of the memorial. His salt-and-pepper hair glinted in the sun, his arm around his wife of 30 years. "Amazing Grace" played as a host of organizations set up a kaleidoscopic row of wreaths in front of the wall.

Wigginton spent four years in the Air Force K-9 unit, then 16 years in the Navy. He fought in both the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War, and being here today, brought back memories that made him cry.

Mr. BILL WIGGINTON (Retired; U.S. Air Force): Getting off the Freedom Bird and kissing the ground when I got back to the States, that's what touched me the most. It was a rough time back then. I got off at San Francisco Airport, they got red paint thrown at me, called a baby killer and a murderer, and that's hurt for 30 years.

KEYES: But Wigginton and many others in the crowd of thousands gathered in front of the black granite wall said just being here makes them feel healed.

Unidentified Man: The United States Army (unintelligible) the army out there.

Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible).

KEYES: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said this wall has magic and power. He told the crowd the story of one memento out of the 100,000 that have been left here since it opened 25 years ago. It was a note from a mother.

General COLIN POWELL (Retired; Former Secretary, U.S. Department of State): And her note read: Dear Pip(ph), here's Guy's(ph) graduation picture. You would be so proud.

KEYES: But former Army nurse Mary "Edie" Meeks touched the audience most deeply. When she came home, she destroyed her uniform because of the hate directed at the vets.

Ms. MARY "EDIE" MEEKS (Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation): The experience of the war helped me to pick up the uniform of honor. Today, I am so proud I was an Army nurse. Wait, wait. And I can say out loud to my guys and my gals, we are the best. Welcome home.

KEYES: That's a sentiment many never got a chance to hear.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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