WASHINGTON — One widow came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to honor the husband who died after stepping on a landmine in 1969.
Another came to remember the husband who lost a 10-month battle with cancer she said was caused by Agent Orange, more than 30 years after the war.
And still another came to pay tribute to the man she had eloped with while they were teenagers. She became a widow at just 17 after he was killed in a botched ambush.
The three women were among hundreds gathered at the wall Monday in a Memorial Day ceremony honoring those who gave their lives in Vietnam and thanking the troops still serving today.
“It’s Memorial Day, and it’s a day ... to remember to say ‘thank you’ for the sacrifice,” said Aseneth Mays Blackwell, whose husband, Army Sgt. Frederic Blackwell, was killed by a land mine. “It’s just important. It’s not a day of shopping and picnicking and whatever, it’s a day of remembering.”
The names of four servicemen that were engraved onto the wall earlier this month were also read aloud for the first time at the ceremony before taps was played and wreaths were laid at the wall.
They are: Army Spc. Raymond Clark Thompson Sr., Sailor Clark David Franklin, Marine Pfc. Lester J. Veazey and Marine Sgt. Dennis R. Siverling.
The addition of the names brings the total number on the wall to 58,286.
“We’re not here just to commemorate the names engraved in this wall,” said Ret. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. “We’re also here to commemorate the service and sacrifice — most pointedly, the sacrifice.”
The ceremony was among a host of events around the Washington, D.C. area honoring troops past and present, including wreath-layings at Arlington National Cemetery and the World War II, Air Force and Navy memorials.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted Gold Star families at the White House for breakfast. Then came the National Memorial Day Parade — with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III serving as the Grand Marshal — winding through downtown D.C.
“We join to express our heartfelt thanks and deepest respect to a grateful nation,” said retired Army Gen. John Tilelli Jr., who delivered the keynote speech at the ceremony at the wall. “Today I join with every American in thanking all veterans for their honorable service and for answering the call when your country needed you. You answered the call to where other people were unwilling to go.”
Actor Lou Diamond Phillips, the son of a Navy officer and Vietnam veteran, served as emcee of the ceremony, and gave Stars and Stripes this message for troops overseas:
“Thank you for your service. Know that you are respected, honored, and loved here back home. Get back safely.”