Memories. Stories. Tears.
The veterans of Merced, along with hundreds of others, met at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year to honor veterans on their day.
At Courthouse Park at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Michael Samberg was one of the veterans who gathered to remember, and to honor.
"It's extremely important to remember these wars," said the 88-year-old World War II veteran who was in the infantry in the Army in Europe.
"War should not be taken lightly or easily," Samberg said. "Action should only be taken after a lot of thought is put into it."
Samberg knows what he's talking about. He's a member of Disabled American Veterans, taking shrapnel in his arm during the Battle of the Bulge, and getting frozen, gangrenous feet during the same battle.
"I came home in February of 1945 on the Queen Mary," Samberg recalled. "I know how important our Constitution is -- that's why I fought."
Samberg, along with about 300 other people, including veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, met at the Veteran's Memorial at Courthouse Park Wednesday morning.
One of the people who came to the memorial was Frank Gaspar's mother, Anita Richards. Gaspar was killed in Iraq in May 2008. He was born on Veterans Day in 1983, and his mother's voice broke as she talked about her fallen son.
"I continue to honor him," Richards said. "He would have been 27 years old today."
As Kimberly Lewis sang an emotion-filled version of the "Star Spangled Banner," veterans stood ramrod straight, their right hands at attention. Wearing everything from their full uniforms to knit caps with DAV logos, many of the veterans' eyes were filled with tears during the song.
Merced City Councilman Noah Lor reminded attendees that it was an honor to be with such a gathering of veterans.
"It's never too late to say thank you to all the men and women who sacrificed so much to protect others," Lor said.
Ed Mintz, the commander of Chapter 31 of the Disabled American Veterans, reminded the veterans of the Iraq war that they are not alone.
"We are here with you," Mintz said. "Stand up and be recognized, and honor those around you."
After a moment of silence for Army Pfc. Lukas Hopper, who was killed in Iraq Oct. 30, Gold Star mothers were recognized with flowers. Then a 21-gun salute cracked the cold November morning.
Ronald Grisby, president of Vietnam Veterans Chapter 91, said he wants people to remember one idea on Veterans Day.
"Freedom is not free," Grisby said. "Someone paid a heavy price for our freedom."
After the memorial at Courthouse Park, the action moved to Main Street, where thousands of people lined the street for the 1 p.m. Veterans Day parade.
With more than 50 entries, the parade took more than an hour to pass. Everyone from tiny Girl Scouts waving handmade flags to veterans driving World War II-era military vehicles joined in the commemoration.
One of the people watching the parade was Steve Zaputil of Livingston.
The 84-year-old had been a tailgunner on a B-17 during World War II, flying more than 35 missions over Germany.
"I think it's great that people are recognizing what veterans have done, especially the young ones who are still fighting," said Zaputil.
With the war in Iraq winding down and the one in Afghanistan ramping up, it's certain there'll be many more Mercedian veterans to attend future ceremonies.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.