Americans honor the fallen with ceremonies and rally

Americans paused Monday to honor the country’s war dead, as the United States observed its annual Memorial Day.

U.S. President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington. He recalled the service and character of several military personnel who were killed recently in overseas operations and have been buried at Arlington, the nation’s most prominent military cemetery.

“Today, just steps from where these brave Americans lie in eternal peace, we declare as a proud and grateful nation, that their sacrifice will never be forgotten. And just as we honor them, we hold their families close,” Obama said.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, also hosted a breakfast at the White House for families of the fallen.

Communities across the country honored the war dead in a variety of ways. In New York, Women Air Service Pilots who tested aircraft during World War II were commemorated.

Washington marked the holiday Sunday with thousands of motorcycle riders roaring into the national capital, a Rolling Thunder rally aimed at calling attention to prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The first large-scale observance of what was originally called Decoration Day took place at Arlington cemetery in 1868, three years after the bloody U.S. Civil War that killed more than 600,000 people.

Many Americans have the day off from work and school, and the three-day weekend is seen as the unofficial start of the summer vacation season. Many families have picnics or make trips to the beach, parks or campgrounds.

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