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The Fallen Are Honored, Even as Toll Climbs

New casualties are noted as the nation stops to salute those killed in past conflicts.

June 01, 2004|Judy Pasternak | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Memorial Day ceremonies in the drizzly national capital on Monday honored troops who have died on two current fronts -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- and in two past wars, World War II and Vietnam.

President Bush followed the traditional wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns with a speech noting that "the war on terror we're fighting today has brought great costs of its own."

The Pentagon identified new Army, Navy and Marine casualties that pushed the death toll in the ongoing conflicts to at least 930.

With Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by his side at the flag-draped amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday, Bush lauded the "decency" and "brave spirit" of the troops who died "in places like Kabul and Kandahar, in Mosul and Baghdad." Because of them, Bush said, echoing themes from his reelection campaign, "America is safer, two terror regimes are gone forever and more than 50 million souls now live in freedom."

Bush's speech was one of several public events on his schedule devoted to commemorations of war. On Saturday, he officially accepted the new World War II Memorial on the National Mall, and on Sunday, he will visit France to mark the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

Across the Potomac from Arlington, 10 new inscriptions were dedicated on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, bringing the total to 58,245. Among them was that of U.S. Air Force Capt. Edward Alan Brudno of Quincy, Mass., who committed suicide in June 1973, four months after returning to the U.S. after seven years as a prisoner of war.

The Defense Department, which determines which names go on the wall, decided that Brudno's death was a direct result of torture and psychological abuse by his captors.

Another name, Marine Corps Cpl. William Floyd Bronson Jr. of Gardner, Mass., was added with the help of Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumed Democratic challenger for the White House. Bronson received a head wound while serving in 1968 and died after suffering a seizure in 1976.

Hours before the ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where a keynote speech was delivered by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Kerry visited the wall with Bronson's family. He helped Bronson's mother place a wreath, crossed himself and walked quietly along the black granite wall of casualties.

Kerry is a decorated Vietnam veteran who became an antiwar protest leader when he returned to America.

The annual Memorial Day parade honored all veterans, with bands, floats and antique cars that cruised along Independence Avenue.

But the weekend belonged to the World War II veterans, most of them octogenarians now. Many, wearing baseball caps bearing the names of their old units, came to Washington for the Saturday ceremonies dedicating the new monument on the Mall, with its pillars, inscriptions, bronze eagles and laurel wreaths.

Even the motorcycle-riding members of Rolling Thunder, a Vietnam veterans group that has become a Memorial Day fixture here, paid tribute to the World War II veterans. For the first time in the 17 years Rolling Thunder has revved through Washington, its leaders were invited to the White House and greeted by Bush.

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