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Veterans Share Special Weekend, Memories

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RALEIGH, N.C. — World War II veterans have stories you will not find in history books -- like the story about Tuskegee Airmen befriending the crew of a B-24 bomber that crash-landed.

Some of those veterans got together over the weekend to swap stories.

Burt Vardeman and Rudy Tempesta met their fellow WWII veterans from the Tuskegee Airmen for the first time.

"I wanted to meet them for 50 years," Tempesta said. "I didn't think I would ever meet them."

Not only did they meet; they also laughed together and swapped old stories.

The pictures from the war that the men shared with each other only told part of their story. The WWII Memorial in Washington, which officially was dedicated over the weekend, told the rest of their story.

Tuskegee Airman Eagle Son said the Memorial is a valuable history lesson.

"This younger generation is losing their history," Son said. "We need something for them to look at and hope they don't make the same mistakes we made."

Wake County Commissioner Harold Webb said he knows how he will feel when he visits the Memorial.

"I will feel two things," said Webb, a Tuskegee Airman. "How patriotic I was, and how lucky I was."

The weekend get-together was memorable for the vets. Vardeman said his bomber group has gone from 300 down to just 90 over the years.

"Not all of them have died," he said. "Some aren't in any condition to travel, and it's hard for them to get about."

Vardeman and the others who got together spend quite of bit of time speaking to students about the war. Their experiences are the stories behind the facts in history books.

There were many ceremonies locally and nationwide over the weekend to remember fallen soldiers.

A ceremony at Raleigh National Cemetery on Sunday featured The Raleigh Concert Band. The annual event has been sponsored by Raleigh's American Legion post for 72 years.

Sunday's keynote address was filled with gratitude for American servicemen and women who've lost their lives. After the speech, there was a wreath-laying ceremony and the playing of Taps.

On Monday, President George W. Bush was to speak at Arlington National Cemetery and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The nation's capital also held its first parade to honor World War II veterans.

The parade featured marching bands, vintage WWII cars and helium balloons.

Ceremonies also were held Monday in Durham, Raleigh, Cary and Fayetteville. All Americans were being asked to pause for a moment of reflection at 3 p.m.

In Fayetteville, more than 100 people paid tribute to those who lost their lives defending this country. Visitors included city leaders, war veterans and people who have relatives fighting the war on terrorism.

The echo of a 21-gun salute hung in the air over Durham's Maplewood Cemetery. State Director of Veterans Affairs Charlie Smith reminded the crowd that Memorial Day is a time to thank every veteran who served to defend America's Freedom.

In Cary, taps was played as part of a Memorial Day ceremony at Hillcrest Cemetery. Elected officials joined veterans and their families in honoring America's war dead. Speakers also paid tribute to the men and women fighting overseas.

For some local veterans, the Memorial Day weekend was about bringing back memories they have tried to forget.

"We did a job," Joseph Zinno said. "We finished it. That's it; forget it."

Said WWII veteran Lou Servizio: "When I got home, I said: 'It's over. I want no more.' I put everything into a footlocker, and I went about my personal life and never talked about it."

Servizio, a navy pilot, donated all of his medals to a war museum in Texas. The collection of replicas sent back from the museum is one of his few reminders.

The leg injury from a crash was the reminder Servizio could never forget.

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