SAN DIEGO (AP) — Marine Cpl. David Antonio Garcia stood on
the deck of an aircraft carrier yesterday and was sworn in as an
American citizen — after already serving under the U.S. flag
in Iraq.

The native of Mexico was among 80 sailors and Marines from 25
countries — from Canada to Syria — who became citizens
in a Veterans Day ceremony aboard the USS Midway, a reward for
putting their lives on the line for their adopted country.

The ceremony, watched by more than 100 cheering relatives, came
as the nation observed Veterans Day with about 160,000 troops
fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan — some of them locked in
fierce house-to-house fighting in Fallujah.

“I wouldn’t want to compare myself to World War
veterans or Vietnam veterans,” said Garcia, 21, who was with
combat engineers who cleared the path for tanks to roll into Iraq.
“But I feel some of what they must feel today. I know what
it’s like to leave loved ones and not to know if you will
come back.”

The citizenship ceremony was one of dozens of events held
nationwide to celebrate Veterans Day, a holiday that has taken on
added meaning in the last three years after wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Veterans were honored Thursday at ceremonies big and small:
an event recognizing a teenage Purple Heart recipient in South
Carolina, a parade on the streets of Manhattan, a wreath-laying
ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony attended by President
Bush.

The war in Iraq was a dominant theme at the ceremonies. There
are about 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq; the American death toll
stands at more than 1,140.

“Let no one tell you we aren’t doing good things
there,” Army Col. Jill Morgenthalher, who recently returned
from Iraq and earned a Bronze Star, said at a wreath-laying
ceremony at Chicago’s Soldier Field. “We are standing
up for what is right. This is our next greatest
generation.”

At the ceremony aboard the USS Midway, U.S. District Judge
William Hayes administered the oath of citizenship, noting that
many of the troops were from countries that deny individual
liberties and had left behind families who “cannot know what
joy you are experiencing today.”

“You as representatives of the armed forces know above
all, like most citizens, that freedom is not free,” Hayes
said. “Thank you for your sacrifice.”

Legal permanent residents of the United States had been allowed
to join the military and seek citizenship after three years of
active service. But in July 2002 President Bush signed an executive
order allowing anyone on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001, to
immediately apply for citizenship. There are about 31,000
non-citizens in the U.S. military.

On the other end of the country, dozens of veterans, some into
their 80s, stood and applauded one of the nation’s youngest
Purple Heart recipients during a ceremony in North Charleston,
S.C.

Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Riccio, 19, who was born on the
Fourth of July and wanted to be a soldier from childhood, was
wounded in Iraq in June when shrapnel from a mortar round passed
through his brain. He survived but only after a Navy corpsman held
his head together on a 30-mile drive to a first aid station.

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