NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New Yorkers are honoring the nation’s service men and women on Memorial Day with special ceremonies and parades.
Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died.
Today, we remember all the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
Hundreds of people, including war veterans and local elected officials, attended the annual salute to heroes at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
During the ceremony, U.S. Navy Sailors, Members of the Intrepid Former Crew Members Association and veterans from around the Tri-State area unfurled a 100-foot American Flag, placed a wreath in the Hudson River, played Taps and gave a 3-volley rifle salute.
The annual ceremony honors those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including the 270 who never made it home from the U.S.S. Intrepid. The ship itself is described as hallowed ground by those who served aboard it.
“Something like this always gets you choked up. It brings tears to your eyes, it really does,” former Intrepid crew member Harry Heist told WCBS 880′s Jim Smith, who served on board in 1957. “When you think about the guys that didn’t come back.”
“Two days from now will be the 50th anniversary of the death in combat of the guy shared the lower bunk with me in special forces training group,” veteran Ira Goldman told CBS 2′s Janelle Burrell. “He was my friend and he was 19 years old and he died for this country.”
World War II veteran Lorenzo Dufau participated in the ceremonial tossing of the wreath into the water, representing all of the Navy buddies he lost at war.
“This is saying farewell to the spirit of those who have gone on before,” Dufau told Burrell.
The 93-year-old was part of the very first African-American crew to serve as a seaman on a wartime battleship.
The great-grandfather was part of the Memorial Day ceremony at the Intrepid.
“It’s rewarding because unless they pay attention to our history, it will repeat itself,” Dufau told Burrell.
“An iconic war ship and national treasure to commemorate the fallen and to honor the sacrifices made by those who fought for our country at home and abroad,” police commissioner Ray Kelly said at the ceremony.
Even the littlest participants were eager to pay tribute. Three-year-old Jaslyn LaMarche’s father is an Iraq War vet who is still serving in the Army.
“I feel joyful inside. She doesn’t understand yet, but one day she will,” Christopher LaMarche told Burrell.
Current and former members of the armed forces said it’s important to remember the true meaning of the holiday.
“It was a timely end of a tremendous struggle and it’s just painful to think that 40 million people disappeared during that war,” 97-year-old World War II veteran Enrique Reid told Burrell. “I’m very glad to be able to tell the story today.”
“I know there’s a lot of barbecues and a lot of other things going on here and there, but we always got to remember the fact that we have our freedom,” Marine Sgt. William Brown said.
“You young people, it’s your responsibility to preserve what we fought for,” Dufau added.
There was no military flyover and no Navy ships dotting the Hudson since Fleet Week was canceled as a result of the sequester budget cuts.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined military leaders and others at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at West 89th Street and River Side Drive.
Bloomberg said it’s important to “remember the sacrifice that was made so that we could be here.”
This year’s ceremony commemorated the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney led a wreath-laying ceremony at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. The park, which opened in October 2012, is a tribute to President Roosevelt’s famous 1941 speech supporting freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
On Long Island, three generations of warriors celebrated the day as a family.
Peter Schmitt enlisted in the Army when he was 17 and fought in Korea, his son Michael served in Lebanon as a paratrooper, and Michael Jr is a Marine who has also done a tour of duty in the Middle East.
“I want people to think about the guys who gave their lives to their country,” Michael Jr told CBS 2′s Carolyn Gusoff.
In New Jersey, hundreds attended a ceremony at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. The event included the presentation of two scholarships to New Jersey high school seniors and the induction of five Vietnam Veterans into the Memorial’s “In Memory” program.
In Paramus, people lined the streets for the borough’s annual Memorial Day parade. A number of veterans marched in the procession and got applause from the crowd. The event also served as a lesson for many children about the importance of Memorial Day.
In Connecticut, the U.S. Navy base in Groton planned to fire off a 21-gun salute to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the armed forces.
President Barack Obama laid a wreath Monday at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington. He then stopped at Section 60 and walked among the graves of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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