DULUTH - With great fanfare, the city of Duluth gathered on the Town Green on Saturday night for its annual Memorial Day service to honor those who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.
Special thanks was given to Vietnam veterans, a group Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter said has often been overlooked.
"It's time to thank them for the job they did and welcome them home," she said. "I don't think that's ever happened. I think Vietnam was the most thankless war we ever had."
For the first time, two generals attended the ceremony. One, retired Maj. Gen. Warren Johnson, served in both Korea and Vietnam. The other, Gen. Bryan Brown, is the commander of all special operations forces in the U.S. military and has played a central role in the war on terror.
In his speech, Brown recalled his own return from Vietnam, when he was unceremoniously greeted by a single person at the airport. When he walked into a bar in the San Francisco International Airport, he was told, "We don't serve soldiers."
"There was no fanfare, no thanks," he said.
Brown thanked the crowd for supporting U.S. servicepeople, emphasizing his appreciation for the homecomings provided for American
service men and women who return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I hope you can see that Americans don't forget," he said. "Sometimes it just takes them a little longer to
At least 300 people turned out for the service, which included a performance by the Albany Marine Corps Logistics Command Band. Lightpoles were wrapped in red, white and blue banners. People waved small American flags as they took shelter from the heat under similarly colored umbrellas.
After Brown's speech, more than 75 Vietnam veterans in the crowd lined up to receive special commemorative coins and pins.
Each veteran stood at the microphone on the stage to state their name and branch of service. Sometimes the crowd would return their salutes with a "hooah" for Army personnel and "oorah" for fellow Marines.
Greg Horzewski of Lilburn, walked down from the stage with tears in his eyes. He said he was thinking of the four members of his nine-man platoon who did not return home from Vietnam.
"I'm here for them," he said. "I wish they were here."
Peter Manfre, of Duluth, served in the Marines in Vietnam and spent a year in a naval hospital in Philadelphia recovering from gunshot wounds he suffered overseas.
"This is the first anyone has ever done to welcome home Vietnam veterans," he said.
Afterward, the American Legion, the largest military service organization in the world with about 3 million members, performed a memorial service to recognize all service men and women who lost their lives.
The "Band of Brothers," a special group within the veterans' motorcycle group the Legion Riders, created a memorial in front of the stage. Each piece of the memorial - the rifle, helmet, boots, flag, wreath, barbed wire, white rose and teddy bears - symbolized a different part of the sacrifice made by U.S. servicepeople.
Duluth has held annual memorial services since 1989 and for the past three years has honored certain groups of veterans, including those that served in World War II and the reserves. This year, Lasseter proclaimed Saturday Vietnam Veteran's Day in Duluth to properly "welcome home" Vietnam veterans.