- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

More than 3,000 family members from all 50 states and the four U.S. territories stood before the Washington Monument yesterday to share tears and smiles during the first Day of Remembrance for Americans, a ceremony honoring those who have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“What we celebrate today are those great ones, your loved ones,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican. “We are not a great nation for our power. We are a great nation for our purpose.”

David Smith, 12, was among the first to receive a Gold Medal of Remembrance, in honor of his father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith.

Sgt. Smith, 33, was killed April 4, 2003, while protecting his men from gunfire. He is the only soldier so far in the Iraq war to receive the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award.

As the ceremony drew to a close, David left the stage to join his mother, Birgit Smith, who has a blue-red tattoo on her left shoulder that reads, “You’re Still No. 1.”

My husband “always put that at the bottom of the letters he wrote to me,” said Mrs. Smith, a native of Bayreuth, Germany, who with her son plans to visit Arlington National Cemetery before they fly home to Holiday, Fla.

During the remaining minutes of the ceremony, she and her son whispered to each other, he repeatedly touched his gold medal, and they placed their arms around each other’s waists or shoulders.

“I’ll put it with my dad’s medals,” David said of the decoration.

Scores of other children of war veterans walked onto the stage to receive the gold medals, attached to blue cords so they could wear them around their necks.

“It is our families who give us encouragement, our families who sit at home and pray that we come home,” said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gen. Pace and Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson handed out the medals for the ceremony, hosted by the White House Commission on Remembrance.

Women dabbed their eyes with handkerchiefs, and men in uniform stood silently at rest. The solemn smiles came mostly from the family members who patted the children’s shoulders and held their hands while leading them from the stage.

Wounded men and women from each of the country’s six military services rang a replica of the Liberty Bell.

The U.S. Army band and vocalists performed “On This Day” and other selections. A clear audience favorite was “Let There Be Peace on Earth” by the Capitol Hill Children’s Choir.

Descendants of Americans from every U.S. war were called to the stage, including those of Nathan Hale, a spy executed during the Revolutionary War.

The names of the men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were displayed on video screens. Some audience members snapped photographs as their relatives’ names appeared.

The 90-minute ceremony concluded with a U.S. Marine trumpeter playing taps and an Air Force fighter plane flying overhead, followed by a group singing of “God Bless America.”

Congress established the commission in 2000. Chairwoman Carmella LaSpada, who organized the ceremony, urged Americans to observe a National Moment of Remembrance in silence for one minute at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.

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