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9/11 anniversary weighs on Memorial Day

Trisha Lawton and her son Caden prayed at the grave of their husband and father, Marine Captain Garrett T. Lawton, in Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. Trisha Lawton and her son Caden prayed at the grave of their husband and father, Marine Captain Garrett T. Lawton, in Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. (Jose Luis Magana/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / May 31, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Americans from Washington to California marked Memorial Day with parades, barbecues, and somber reflection in a holiday infused with fresh meaning by the approaching 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The National Memorial Day Parade in Washington honored veterans and America’s war dead and included special tributes to Sept. 11 first responders, victims, and their families. The holiday came less than a month after Navy SEALs shot and killed Osama bin Laden, who coordinated the attacks.

Special guests at the parade included Medal of Honor recipients, astronaut and Korean War veteran Buzz Aldrin, and actor Gary Sinise, a veterans’ advocate who played Lieutenant Dan in the film “Forrest Gump.’’

Hamilton Peterson, 51, who lost his father and stepmother when the hijacked United Airlines 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa., said the looming anniversary of the terrorist attacks should inspire Americans to be vigilant.

“Obviously, bin Laden’s death is a highlight of the 10th anniversary. However, we recognize that future attacks are imminent and that, absent using 9/11 as a model for how to respond, all Americans need to get involved. It can’t just be the military,’’ he said.

Sergeant James Patrick McMichael of the Arlington County, Va., sheriff’s office was part of a team of first responders to the Pentagon. McMichael, who attended the parade in Washington, said that even though the anniversary year was dredging up painful memories, it is crucial that the public remember what occurred.

A jet hijacked by terrorists crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, killing 184 people.

President Obama participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

“We remember that the blessings that we enjoy as Americans came at a dear cost,’’ the president said at a memorial service at the cemetery. “Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay, but we can honor their sacrifice, and we must.’’

After his remarks, Obama visited a section of the cemetery that is the final resting place for many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US troops fighting in Afghanistan paused for Memorial Day services, with some praying and holding flag-raising ceremonies to recognize the more than 1,400 who have been killed in combat there since the war began a decade ago.