America took time over Memorial Day weekend at thousands of remembrances nationwide to honored its troops fallen in battle through the decades.
Some ceremonies were held Saturday and Sunday, but most were on Monday. They ranged from parades and emotional roll calls of the missing to musical salutes, jet plane flyovers and patriotic speeches.
Locally, the largest of those took place at Mount Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks. Its 45th annual Memorial Day Tribute was five months in the planning.
On a breezy, crystal-clear Monday morning, the 4,000 attendees entering the cemetery passed beneath a 20-by-40-foot American flag lashed to the pinnacles of raised aerial ladders extending from two Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District trucks. The dramatic effect was an arc with a giant flag suspended in the middle, the cloth snapping in the wind like a crisp salute.
Parts of the 49-acre park's perimeter were lined with 460 large flags, while 1,500 smaller Stars and Stripes fluttered at veterans' graves near the Court of Honor.
Attendees began filling the rows of white folding chairs an hour before the 11 a.m. start. Many wore flag- and slogan-emblazoned shirts, jackets and hats. There were handshakes and hugs, tears and tales of sacrifice and courage.
Retired mechanic Roy Geiman of Carmichael sat with his wife, Ree, waiting for the service to begin. Asked what the day meant to him, he became so choked up that all he could manage to say was, "All the guys ."
Ree Geiman added: "Our grandson is in the Marines and just completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, but we have (feelings of) patriotism for all the soldiers. My father was a 26-year veteran of the Army, and my brother died in uniform. We have a vested interest."
Sitting nearby were correctional officer Chris Lewis of Fair Oaks and his wife, Sarah, who is studying to be a medical assistant. They were among the many parents who had brought their children to the ceremony.
"We wanted to make our children aware of the magnitude of today, that it's not just a three-day party," said Sarah Lewis.
Two of the Lewises' four children are 10-year-old twins Shelby and Rebeka.
"Our great-grandpa was in the Army, and we wanted to come out here to learn about (Memorial Day) and see what they do," Shelby said.
"It's a lesson (outside the classroom)," said Rebeka.
For four years, military veterans and retirees Glenn Wood of Sacramento and John Zasso of North Highlands have fired the mortar that punctuates the service with booming blasts.
Dressed in period garb, they are Civil War re-enactors and members of Company B of the Confederate States Marines.
"Out here there is no North or South; a veteran is a veteran," Wood said. "We're here (with the mortar) to keep the Civil War heritage alive."
The hourlong program opened with two low-flying Air National Guard F-15 Eagle jet fighters screaming overhead.
The remaining events played out mostly on the park's Court of Honor, a raised brick platformflanked by two ship's cannon.
After members of the California Army National Guard marched the colors through the crowd and up onto the stage, Florida Stringer sang the national anthem.
Following her performance was a speech by Army Col. William T. Arruda Jr., commander of the 49th Military Police Brigade, who recently returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
"Throughout the year, as you are enjoying your meal at your table with your loved ones around you, take time to offer a prayer of thanks for all those who truly made that day and all the days like it possible," he said in part.
The remembrance continued with music, a narrative tribute to fallen soldiers, a symbolic 13-step flag-folding ceremony and a 21-gun salute.
Near the end, as Stringer's voice rang out in an "America the Beautiful" medley, the crowd looked up to see skydiver Michael Sheerin slowly drift earthward. Trailing majestically beneath him was a wind-rippled American flag so big that it dwarfed him. The delighted onlookers burst into applause.
Mount Vernon manager and event organizer Jeff Forrey took a minute to talk between duties. He had been busy since 5:30 a.m., joined by Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts to help position the flags around the property.
"The observance honors all veterans who have given us the privileges we enjoy today," he said.
Editor's note: This story was changed May 31 to correct the spelling of Florida Stringer's name.