HARTFORD, Conn. – Deb Granahan never gave much thought to Memorial Day (search). It was a day off from work, an excuse to find some great buys at the mall and a chance to crack open the grill for a family barbecue.
That was before her son died in Iraq (search).
Pfc. Anthony D'Agostino, of Waterbury, was one of 16 U.S. soldiers killed when his Chinook helicopter was shot down near Baghdad (search) on Nov. 2. He would have turned 21 on the day his remains were flown back to Connecticut.
This year, Granahan plans to spend the Memorial Day weekend visiting her son's grave and attending a parade in nearby Middlebury that is dedicated to D'Agostino.
"I have such a different respect and understanding of Memorial Day," Granahan, 43, said last week. "I will remember not only my son, but others who have passed on and who have given us our freedom."
With the country still fighting battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans groups and families expect a somber weekend, with polls showing support for the Iraq war eroding and many people concerned that it has increased the threat of terrorism against Americans.
Events across the nation ranged from a Civil War reenactment in Los Angeles to a concert by the United States Air Force Band of Liberty in Concord, Mass. President Bush was to lay a wreath at Arlington Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns.
For Clifford Jones, 56, of East Hartford, Memorial Day isn't a special day to think about the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers abroad. He already does that every day.
The retired Navy diver recently sent care packages full of homemade chocolate chip cookies and bug spray to his two sons who are both on active duty. Army National Guard Spc. Aaron Jones has been in Iraq since April, and Air Force 1st. Lt. Clifford Jones Jr. is stationed in California.
"The emotions run the gamut. When things are calm, everything runs smoothly. But when the insurgents are coming in, you have moments of just terror," said the elder Jones.
In Redondo Beach, Calif., the family of Army Sgt. Brian Wood plan to lead the annual Memorial Day parade. The honor, offered after the death of their son, is not something they ever sought.
Wood was killed April 16 when his military vehicle pulled off the road and hit a mine in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, just weeks after Wood's 21st birthday.
Still, the Woods remain committed to U.S. efforts in Iraq.
"We're there doing something we needed to do. It's not easy," said Brian Wood's father Greg. "It's costly, but we understand the cost, more than most Americans."
Others plan to take comfort in remembering the living — the 135,000 men and women still serving in Iraq — rather than the 800 or so U.S. lives lost.
Since her son died July 28, Adeline Maher has been involved in AdoptaPlatoon Soldier Support Effort, a nonprofit that connects deployed troops with pen pals.
"I had to something. I had all this energy inside of me. I guess I could have gone into a depression. But no, my son wouldn't have done that. I do what he would have done," she said.
For Vivian and James LaMont, it's their second Memorial Day to mourn the death of the youngest of their nine children, Marine Capt. Andrew David LaMont. He was killed on May 19, 2003, when the supply helicopter he was piloting crashed in Iraq.
This year, the LaMonts have left behind the constant reminders of their son in Eureka, Calif., where for years they led the Rotary Club's local Memorial Day celebration.
Vivian LaMont said she and her husband are looking forward to a fresh start in Tucson, Ariz., a place where they weren't immediately known as parents who lost a son in Iraq.
"I think my husband and I are starting another journey in being somewhere else," she said. "You can miss the person very much, but to agonize over it would be a detriment to his memory. You can't look back."
No matter where she goes, the memory of her son's life — not his death — will remain.
"He's really here with me," she said.