In dramatic contrast to sullen cold, wind and rain last year, this Veterans Day was celebrated in bright sunshine at Arlington National Cemetery. The beauty seemed only fitting for this day of camaraderie and remembrance.
A cannon salute echoing over green Virginia hills began the solemn mid-morning ceremonies with William F. Schrier, The American Legion's Western Region Vice Commander, joining fellow dignitaries at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Vice president Joe Biden emerged from the sea of spectators and laid a wreath before the tomb as Schrier and fellow veterans saluted.
The entourage then turned about-face and climbed a flight of stone steps to the cemetery's amphitheater, where an audience of around a thousand witnessed a program of music from "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Corps Band - including patriotic solos from its lead tenor - the procession of colors, a prayer for veterans, the Pledge of Allegiance and a short round of addresses.
Then, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki recounted the accomplishments of the Obama administration and 111th Congress with regard to veterans benefits. Shinseki recalled adoption of a record-high VA budget, expansion of eligibility for medical benefits to include those suffering from certain Gulf War-related ailments, and enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Biden delivered this year's Veterans Day keynote address. Speaking for 16 minutes, he began by comparing the day's clement weather with the horrific heat of Pacific Islands, Vietnam and Southwest Asia, and with the bitter cold of winters in Korea and Western Europe.
"I look out at all of you who have served our nation," Biden said, "and all of you have stood by their sides and waited as they served. And I see the most tested among us, the most tested of all Americans. I also see the most honorable men and women - citizens who have never feared the future and are determined to build a better future to this day.
"Collectively," Biden continued, "the generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have served and sacrificed for us are the heart and soul - the very spine - of this nation. And as a nation, we pause today to thank the more than 23 million surviving veterans who have so bravely and faithfully protected our freedoms."
The vice president's sympathies were apparent at times from the emotion in his voice, recalling his time as the concerned father of a servicemember sent into harm's way. Biden's son, Beau, a captain in the Delaware National Guard, returned a little more than a year ago from his deployment in Iraq.
After the vice president finished his remarks, the colors were retired and the audience exited for a long walk out of Arlington. It was a poignant journey as, near the exit gates, graves were being dug for newly fallen warriors. Despite the cheerful blue sky, there was little laughter at Arlington this morning.
That afternoon, a large crowd gathered to hear several Veterans Day speakers at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Vice Commander Schrier, one of many representatives from veterans service organizations, placed a wreath from The American Legion at The Wall, honoring the memories of those who sacrificed their lives during the Vietnam War.
Editor's Note: Peter Gaytan, executive director of The American Legion in Washington, made a Veterans Day appearance on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." He discussed several veterans issues and took questions from callers. Watch his interview here.
View more photos from the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.