Military brass, political leaders and a cabinet installer paid tribute to the sacrifice of America's military Monday at Omaha's Memorial Park.
Vince Riha of Bellevue, the cabinet installer, serenaded a crowd of about 2,000 with a medley of patriotic songs. People stood saluting the U.S. flag or held their hands over their hearts as Riha sang. Many joined in song.
Riha, 46, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.” He quoted Presidents George W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and broadcaster Walter Cronkite in expressions of appreciation for military members and the families of those who have served and died.
“It's about making sure they know we appreciate what they've done,” he said.
Gov. Dave Heineman said Nebraskans are proud of veterans and honor them daily.
“We will never forget the sacrifices of our military and their families,” he said.
Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, the U.S. Strategic Command chief of staff, was the day's main speaker. He stressed that people not forget the sacrifices, but also keep in mind that Memorial Day is a time for healing and renewal for friends and families of fallen soldiers. The springtime placement of the day is important to remember, he said.
“This is a time of renewal after a long winter,” Grimsley said.
Mayor Jim Suttle and Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., also spoke. A Omaha Police Department helicopter flew over the memorial — built after World War II — a role normally performed by a military helicopter prior to the federal sequestration budget cuts.
Veteran Paul Gilligan, 64, of Omaha said Memorial Day is a moving holiday for veterans. He was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War.
“(Memorial Day) makes me a little bit sad because of the sacrifices made,” he said. “But at the same time, I'm very proud of everything accomplished.”
Downtown at Heartland of America Park, about 75 people gathered around the Airborne Memorial. Members of the Midwest Chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association recalled why Memorial Day was important as a time to remember soldiers who have died. The event included prayer and a moment of silence.
“People might think Memorial Day is for hamburgers, hotdogs and swimming,” said Terry Zahn, chapter president. “And those things are all right to do. But they should spend an hour or so honoring our soldiers on this day.”
Memorial Day is about honoring all soldiers, living and dead, regardless of how much combat action they saw, said airborne veteran Bob Garrison.
“Whether they saw fierce combat or never saw a bullet while they served, they deserve to be honored,” he said. “Because all of us raised our right hands and took an oath that we were willing and ready to make a sacrifice.”
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