- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

Veterans Day ceremonies tomorrow across the Washington area will unfold in full military splendor — despite concerns that parades and other events elsewhere in the country will be smaller because so many soldiers are deployed in the Middle East.

David Uchic, spokesman for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the huge number of American leaders and military agencies in the Washington area will be enough for full-scale memorials.

“We’ll be just fine,” he said.

Among those expected to attend ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery are two veterans who were paralyzed by enemy fire in Vietnam. More than 30 years later, they offer some advice and words of encouragement for the thousands of soldiers now fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Being away from freedom, then returning to freedom can be very hard,” said Del L. McNeal, 54. Mr. McNeal was a U.S. Army soldier in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He was paralyzed when struck in the upper body by two bullets, including one that severed his spinal cord.

Mr. McNeal, executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said he has seen a swelling of patriotism since September 11 that has not abated.

“We had really gotten away from patriotism before [the attacks] on this country,” he said. “Today, 100 percent of America supports what soldiers are doing, despite what political differences they might have.”

Mr. McNeal is expected to be joined in Arlington by Joseph L. Fox, a 54-year-old former U.S. Marine who also fought in Vietnam and was shot and paralyzed.

“I first thing I would say to a returning veteran is ‘Welcome home,’ then I would tell them to believe in a country that has promised to take care of them,” said Mr. Fox, president of the veterans group. “I don’t think veterans get enough recognition. … The price of freedom is not free.”

Mr. Fox and Mr. McNeal will be joined in Arlington tomorrow by three soldiers who suffered spinal cord injuries in Iraq — Kenneth K. Dixon, 35, U.S. Army; Jason Wittling, 29, U.S. Marine Corps; and Johnnie L. Williams, 20, U.S. Army.

President Bush is scheduled to join the men and lead the annual wreath-laying ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, which will be followed by a 1 p.m. service at the National Vietnam Memorial.

Veterans Day is observed every Nov. 11 in honor of all those living and dead who served with the U.S. armed forces during war. Post offices, government buildings and most schools are closed for the federal holiday.

Elsewhere in the region, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele will be the guest speaker at the World War II Memorial in Annapolis. In keeping with the Veterans Day tradition, the ceremony also will begin at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month — the original time and date in 1918 when the armistice was signed ending World War I.

Other ceremonies in Maryland include one at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Baltimore at 11 a.m., the War Memorial Building in Baltimore at 10:30 a.m., the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in Charlotte Hall at 10:30 a.m. and the Cheltenham State Veterans Cemetery in Cheltenham at 11 a.m.

In the District, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation Inc. will commemorate the day with events for male and female veterans of the Vietnam era, their families, friends and the general public. The four-day event will include a 7:30 a.m. reading at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial on the Mall.

In Virginia, John Tyler Community College will hold a program beginning at 11 a.m., and Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, will speak at 10 a.m. at the Virginia War Memorial.

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