Americans honored their military veterans Saturday with a parade in the wintry cold of New York City, where one World War II vet thanked onlookers for remembering, and in a somber ceremony in a Texas community bloodied by a church massacre where almost half of those killed had ties to the U.S. Air Force.
Across the Atlantic, millions of people in Britain and France paused to remember war victims as they marked Armistice Day, which this year was the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I.
In parks, war memorials, football fields and on streets across the United States, politicians and citizens gathered to thank those who have served in the nation’s armed forces.
In Sutherland Springs, Texas, a Veterans Day ceremony outside a community center was grim as about 100 people gathered under cloudy skies, honoring the more than two dozen people killed a block away at a church last Sunday.
An Air Force official has said 12 of the massacre victims had direct connections to the Air Force, “either members or with family ties.” Sutherland Springs is near Lackland Air Force Base.
Wilson County Judge Richard Jackson’s voice broke as he thanked the first responders and others who rushed to the First Baptist Church, saying the scene will affect them the rest of their lives.
Jackson, the county administrator, said he hopes Saturday’s ceremony will help “put this horrific tragedy behind us and look to the future.”
After the ceremony, members of a fire and rescue squad stood in a circle, put their arms over each other’s’ shoulders, and prayed. A wreath was placed near flags to remember those killed.
In New York City, which hosts the largest Veterans Day parade in the country, astronaut Buzz Aldrin served as grand marshal, joining Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Air Force’s highest-ranking woman at Saturday’s parade.
“It’s beautiful, so many people,” said Aldrin, who rode in a convertible and waved to the crowds gathered on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Aldrin, 87, served in the Air Force and was the second man on the moon, piloting the Apollo 11 and following Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface in 1969.
Air Force Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski also attended, along with hundreds of other veterans who marched in the cold. One of the World War II veterans who rode in a float held a sign that read “Thank you for remembering.” Others held U.S. flags or black-and-white photos of their loved ones, and dressed in historic uniforms.
De Blasio said the U.S. must provide veterans better access to mental health and medical care, and more job opportunities.
Also in New York state, state and local officials said a new monument will honor African-American military veterans, and will be built in Buffalo’s waterfront, alongside other memorials. Planners hope to dedicate it on Veterans Day 2018.
In Washington, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, carried orange buckets with the message “Let’s Do This” to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, joining several dozen volunteers to give it a cleaning.
The Pences spent about 40 minutes just after dawn Saturday wiping down the memorial wall engraved with the names of fallen soldiers.
“This is a great way to start Veterans Day!” Pence declared. He shook hands and posed for photos with the volunteers.
The group was joined by James Pierce, a National Park Service ranger who lost a leg while serving with the North Carolina Army National Guard in Afghanistan.
Rhode Island used the special occasion of Veterans Day to officially open a new home for veterans.
The state is one of the first to use a community living concept for veterans’ long-term care, Kasim Yarn, Rhode Island’s first director of veterans affairs, said.
Gov. Gina Raimondo hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony at the home, located in the town of Bristol on the same site of the previous home, which dated back to 1955, with additions built in later years.
“I’m proud that Rhode Island is now leading the way in recognizing the sacrifice of those who’ve served our great nation. Our veterans deserve nothing less,” Raimondo said.
The new 208-bed complex provides nursing and residential care for veterans. They began moving in last week into cottages, where each resident has a private bedroom and bathroom. There’s also a central location for social activities and services.
Across Britain, people stopped in streets, squares and railway stations for two minutes of silence starting at 11 a.m. At that moment — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — World War I ended 99 years ago, on Nov. 11, 1918.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath at the statue of wartime French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, a key architect of peace between the great powers. Macron then inspected French troops and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. Former French Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande also attended the ceremony attended by a large crowd in drizzly weather.
Many Britons wore red paper poppies, symbolizing the flowers that bloomed amid the carnage of WWI’s Western Front. Armistice Day originally commemorated the millions who died in the Great War, but now also remembers those killed in World War II and subsequent conflicts.
By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press