- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

Near-perfect weather welcomed thousands of World War II veterans yesterday to the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall.

“This is the day of my life,” said Fred Miccio, 84, who overcame being hospitalized last week with a flulike sickness to attend the ceremony. “I’ve waited a long time.”

Mr. Miccio arrived from Houston alone after a friend who was supposed to accompany him broke his leg.

“I was determined to come down here,” he said.

Mr. Miccio, who fought with the 30th Engineer Topographical Battalion in North Africa from 1942 to 1944, was in his seat by 9 a.m. By the time the dedication ceremony began, he had been sitting under the sun for more than five hours.

“It’s not bothering me at all,” he said of the sun, his hands trembling slightly. A half-empty pack of cigarettes was in his breast pocket.

The mid-70s temperatures were a relief for organizers and safety officials who feared heat and humidity would cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke or more serious heart problems among the visitors and the World War II veterans, the youngest of whom are in their late 70s.

“We are so lucky that the weather is mild,” said Betsy Glick, spokeswoman for the American Battle Monuments Commission, which was responsible for the memorial’s design, construction and funding.

Still, the sun was too much for James Demakis, 83, of Peabody, Mass., who took part in the invasion of Normandy with the 825th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

“I need a break from the sun,” said Mr. Demakis, who had forgotten his hat and was now sitting under a tree after about three hours on the Mall.

“Most of us run out of gas right around noontime,” he said. “I got to get by myself to recharge my batteries.”

Medical personnel treated 78 persons on the Mall and transported 28 to area hospitals, authorities said.

At RFK Stadium, where many ticket holders parked to board buses to the Mall, medics treated 26 persons and took one person to the hospital.

Two persons had possible heart-related problems, but neither went into cardiac arrest, said Alan Etter, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman.

Mr. Etter, who said earlier this week that officials were preparing for a “mass-casualty event,” said “the favorable weather saved lives.”

Medical personnel were omnipresent yesterday, manning nine tents equipped with cots and defibrillators, watching the events from lifeguard chairs and circulating throughout the crowd so they could administer aid immediately.

Bill Banks, 79, of Bedford, N.Y., waited to use a portable bathroom in a line that snaked past two medics on a lifeguard chair.

“I need to be saved right now,” said Mr. Banks, a radio officer with the Merchant Marines from 1945 to 1947. “I need to get in that john.”

He also said the World War II-era music playing before the ceremony reminded him of “good times and some not-so-good times.”

“But it’s a beautiful day, and I’m just glad I’m still here.” Mr. Banks added.

Secret Service agents, U.S. Park Police officers and other security forces appeared to be everywhere, particularly near the stage, where President Bush and former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush were seated.

Though gates did not open until 8 a.m., many veterans were there by 6 a.m., Ms. Glick said.

Streets around the memorial were shut down, so many attendees with tickets arrived on buses from the Pentagon and RFK Stadium.

Event organizers had prepared special ramps with wheelchair access to help attendees leave the buses. Numerous volunteers, including a group of 40 ROTC students from Edison High School in Alexandria, helped older attendees to their seats. They also handed out free water, which was plentiful but mostly warm.

Many of the veterans were wearing patriotic rosebud pins made for them by 50,000 schoolchildren representing all 50 states.

“One man started to cry after I thanked him for what he did on behalf of our country,” said Claire Browne, 18, distributing a bag full of the pins. “He said, ‘I’ve never had a teenager thank me for what I did.’ ”

Miss Browne, a senior at Morgan Park Academy in Chicago, was one of 12 volunteers handing out the red-white-and-blue rosebuds.

After the ceremony, TV’s Willard Scott hosted a tribute concert on the Mall. The Smithsonian’s Reunion Celebration on the Mall also resumed after the dedication and continued until early evening.

The reunion events began Thursday and will end tonight. Several veterans said yesterday they will also attend smaller reunions throughout the Memorial Day weekend.

The crowd, which security officials said would move more slowly because of the veterans’ ages and medical conditions, was able to exit without problems, said Sgt. Scott Fear, U.S. Park Police spokesman.

He also reported no major security problems, including no protests, no arrests and just one report of a suspicious package that was checked out and cleared before the gates opened.

“The whole day’s gone very well,” he said.

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