Although the Vietnam monument formed the backdrop, the Memorial Day ceremony was intended "to remember guys from all wars and celebrate the freedoms we have," Uchniat said.
Yesterday's gathering honored two Philadelphians whose names had been included on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington but omitted from Philadelphia's because Army records listed incorrect hometowns.
The names of the two soldiers, Pfc. Elmer Franklin Powell and Capt. William B. Hollowell Jr., were carved in Philadelphia's granite memorial last Veterans Day. Yesterday, paper tracings of their names, made at the monument in Washington, were added to an ammunition box containing the tracings of 643 other Philadelphians.
"That brings the total to 645," Uchniat said somberly.
Dennis Best, 49, of Voorhees, who lost his legs to an enemy booby trap in South Vietnam, carried the ammunition box on his wheelchair, returning it to a burial vault behind the memorial. The symbolic trip recalled a longer journey in 1987, when Best and nine other Vietnam veterans walked or rolled 140 miles from Washington to bring back the tracings - and money they raised to build Philadelphia's memorial.
"I feel very fortunate to be here," said Best, who now works for the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
In Port Richmond, the Memorial Day parade got off to its traditional start at 10:30 a.m. with string bands and a salute to Korean War veterans, who this year mark the 50th anniversary of that conflict.
As a group of Korean War veterans stood solemnly nearby, the Polish American String Band turned to them and played "The Star-Spangled Banner." The veterans had named their club - Pfc. Stanley A. Gogoj Chapter of the Philadelphia and Vicinity Korean War Veterans Association - after a soldier who died three days after the war began. Gogoj had grown up just blocks from where they stood.
Then 50 marching groups, including several Mummers bands, headed for Allegheny Avenue, where they formed a peculiarly Philadelphia procession of military camouflage - red, white and blue and Day-Glo sequins and feathers. Families and groups of friends in the close-knit community lined the streets to wave, clap, and cheer them on.
Surrounded by three generations of relatives, including a dancing 6-year-old grandson, Loretta Greenjack clapped enthusiastically as the bands strode by. She comes every year to the parade, which has grown from just the neighborhood's Polish American String Band and a couple of American Legion posts to a much bigger affair.
"I wouldn't miss it," said Greenjack, who raised eight children in Port Richmond. "I like the friendliness of all the neighbors' being together and showing their appreciation for the marchers. And keeping a tradition. I'm for tradition."
Across the street, 20 members of the St. Adalbert Seniors yelled and clapped for the marchers as they sat on a line of wooden chairs on the sidewalk outside the Eugene A. Gwienek Funeral Home. Eleanor Leonarczik is president of the group. Her sister-in-law, who owns the funeral home, let them borrow the chairs. Some were wearing fringed American flag shawls they had made for occasions such as this.
"It's nice for the neighborhood," Leonarczik said.
It was fun, yes, but these women, who came of age during World War II, said they were remembering what Memorial Day is really about. Agnes Bugieda said she was thinking of the soldiers.
"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here," she said, "and the young people should realize that."
At the Liberty Bell later in the day, visitors - young and old - observed a National Moment of Remembrance. They stood silently, hands over their hearts or in salute. Some bowed their heads.
At 4 p.m., the Pennsylvania State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution held its annual Memorial Day ceremony at Washington Square, the final resting place for one-seventh of the soldiers who died during the Revolutionary War.
The ceremony, which included men in Revolutionary-era uniforms, fife-and-drum music, and patriotic readings, concluded with the placing of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
That was followed by the unveiling of a plaque for Tom Foglietta, a former City Council member and U.S. congressman and now ambassador to Italy, in honor of his service to the city and his efforts to restore Independence Park and Washington Square Park.
Surrounded by friends and family, Foglietta said it was "just the most wonderful day of my life."
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