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Saluting Veterans, Past And Future

America marked Veterans Day Thursday with parades, ceremonies and many other activities across the country.

The Census Bureau reports there are nearly 25 million military veterans living in the U.S, and "our nation thanks them all," President Bush said Thursday.

In the annual ceremony Thursday, Mr. Bush laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. The remains of the first unknown veteran, from World War I, were interred there in 1921, following the leads of Britain and France.

President Bush told the Arlington National Cemetery audience that the troops fighting Iraq are liberators and U.S. security also is on the line.

"In the best tradition of America, their actions have made our nation safer in a world full of new dangers," the president said.

Not far from the burial places of more than 100 of the troops killed in Iraq, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Peter Maer, Mr. Bush bowed his head as taps sounded.

Next to the flowing fountains that are the centerpiece of the World War II Memorial in Washington, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Bagnato, a colorful wreath was placed in honor of the veterans who have served throughout America's history. It read, "from a grateful nation."

Another wreath was placed by the 82nd Airborne Division Association, as about 300 current division members from Ft. Bragg, N.C., were heading to Iraq on Veterans Day to begin duty there.

There were smaller, more personal tributes as well. Bouquets of flowers have been placed over the names of battles where some of these veterans fought. A fourth grader left a homemade poster that simply said "thank you."

In Whitman, Mass., Thursday a World War II veteran was run over and killed by a van as the Veterans of Foreign Wars were lining up for the event. The driver was a friend, reports CBS radio station WBZ-AM.

The Veterans Day parade in Albany Thursday was billed as the largest west of the Mississippi River. It will feature 200 units, including color guards, bands, rifles, soldiers in battle dress and a 21-gun salute. But since most tanks are deployed now because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, organizers aren't expecting the usual assortment of heavy artillery.

For the first time, the veterans taking part in North Dakota's Veterans Day ceremonies include soldiers who've returned home after serving in Iraq. Many say they're still trying to get back to life at home.

Twenty-two-year-old Joey Specht is a sophomore at North Dakota State University who served with the 142nd Combat Engineer Battalion in Iraq. He's returned to his classes, but says he still jumps at loud noises and still finds himself looking for threats in a crowd.

The Smithsonian Institution was marking Veterans Day with an exhibit called "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War" at its National Museum of American History in Washington. The exhibit is billed as a comprehensive history of the nation's military past, from the revolution all the way up to the war on terror.

"Wars have been defining episodes in American history," museum director Brent Glass told CBS Radio News. "They have profound military significance, obviously, but also political, social and economic significance."

Among the 850 original artifacts are one of Washington's uniforms, and a Huey helicopter flown in Vietnam.

In Albuquerque, the artwork of 25 veterans was on display in the New Mexico Veterans Art Show at the state fairgrounds.

Veterans Day, originally Armistice Day, was declared by Congress as a national holiday in 1926, although 27 states were already celebrating it as a legal holiday. It became a federal legal holiday in 1938. While Memorial Day arose out of the Civil War, Armistice Day commemorated the veterans of World War I, which ended at "the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" in 1918.

In 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday from "Armistice" to "Veterans" to broaden it to include veterans of World War II and the Korean War.

In 1968, federal holidays including Veterans Day were moved to Mondays to provide three-day weekends for workers, but it soon became apparent that Nov. 11 had historical and emotional significance to many Americans, and a decade later Veterans Day was returned to its traditional date.

In proclaiming Nov. 11, 2004, as Veterans Day, President Bush praised the nation's veterans.

"They have fought for the security of our country and the peace of the world. They have defended our founding ideals, protected the innocent, and liberated the oppressed from tyranny and terror," he said.

Thursday was a federal holiday, with federal offices and post offices closed. Some local communities' schools were closed, and banks in some states were not open.

A number of Illinois districts received permission to keep schools open Thursday, as teachers and students prepared to observe Veterans Day with assemblies involving presentations by military heroes and lessons on the realities of war.

Schools across the state have invited veterans to join students in flag-raising ceremonies, question-and-answer sessions, the singing of patriotic songs and other activities.

"(Children will) understand it's more than just getting a day off and prancing around," said Wayne Miller, commander of the VFW Post in Wheaton, a Chicago suburb.

This year, 235 of the state's 881 districts sought to waive the federal holiday, compared with about 175 districts five years ago.