When Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond was a student at Tennessee Temple University, he would sit under the oak trees at Chattanooga National Cemetery and study for class.
Speaking to more than 250 people gathered at the national cemetery for Veterans Day ceremonies Sunday, Hammond recalled wondering about the lives of the people who were buried there.
"I didn't know anybody here back then, but 40 years have passed," said Hammond, who served in the U.S. Navy. "Every now and then, I come across the grave of someone I know."
For some, having the Veterans Day ceremony at Chattanooga National Cemetery makes it more special.
"This is hallowed ground," said Flora Lee Kernea, president of the Magnolia chapter of the Gold Star Wives of America Inc., an organization of spouses of those who died on active duty or because of military service. "There's not only husbands here, there's sons here, there's wives and daughters here. If it was not for our veterans, we would not be able to enjoy the freedoms we have."
People wandered around the nearly 50,000 white marble headstones aligned with military precision on the cemetery's 120 acres. Some stooped, placing flowers or balloons on relatives' headstones.
Spectators were treated to music from the American Legion Post 95 band and the Chattanooga Choo Choo Chorus, including a sing-along to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." The ceremony ended with a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps by two members of Bugles Across America.
Before the ceremony, Vietnam veteran David Wade visited the grave of his son, Daryl Murphy, who died in 2007.
Wade carried the flag for the Military Order of the Purple Heart and said he was honored to be able to celebrate being a veteran.
"It's special to me that I have a Purple Heart, because lots of people who earned them didn't make it back," Wade said.
Curtis Henderson, who was among the first troops to land in Korea as part of the Korean War in 1950, said the ceremony always stirs a little emotion for him when he thinks about the sacrifices made on the home front and in the military.
"I like to see the recognition," he said. "We just want to remember what people have done, because there was nothing done for the people who came back from Vietnam and Korea, what they call 'the Forgotten War.' I try to keep it alive as much as I can."
Chattanooga National Cemetery also dedicated a new wall that will hold cremated remains.
Cemetery Director Deborah Kendrick said the wall has more than 1,800 places for remains. Each person interred there will have a white marble plaque made and engraved by the same company that made the tombstones.