Near the end of the hourlong Veterans Day ceremony, as the honor guard fired its guns, Sheila Benton rushed to see her father during a lunch break.

Every year since his death in 2004, she visits Harold Lamon Penney at his grave in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

"I have a little chat," she said, tears brimming.

She tells Dad what's been going on in her life and the family and lets him know that she misses him and loves him.

On Thursday, she and a co-worker drove from their workplace in Rossville on their lunch break to visit the cemetery, place two small American flags on each side of Penney's gravestone and snap some photos.

A few hundred yards away in a stone pavilion, more than 400 people gathered for the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council's annual ceremony honoring living and dead veterans.

Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan marched flags in to post before the audience.

Men in solid-green uniforms and boots polished to a mirror shine marched alongside others in dark dress uniforms with sharp creases that broke with each step along the pavement and into the pavilion. The line represented more than two dozen local veterans organizations.

In that line stood a small group of lesser-known veterans -- merchant marines.

The four men -- Harold Miller, Vincent Paterson, John Arms and George Adkison -- served aboard ships that hauled everything from ammunition to rations across oceans to keep supply lines full.

"Think of us as the UPS and the FedEx of the war," Paterson said.

The men are members of the Tri-State chapter of American Merchant Marine Veterans World War II.

At the ceremony, Dan Paupp, local representative for the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs, took a few minutes to remind veterans and families to ask about benefits that might be available to them.

"That's why I like to come and be recognized," he said. "To remind them that there are benefits out there and, if you don't know where to look, you're not going to get them."

Noah Long, chairman of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council, said planning for the annual ceremony begins more than three months before the event.

Long said the Veterans Day ceremony and others honoring military service have changed in recent years with the ongoing wars.

"It is because more and more people are understanding the sacrifice veterans have made and are making for this country," he said. "That's very different than when I came back from Vietnam. We were just ignored; there was nobody to greet our planes."

The event's featured speaker, Brig. Gen. Robert Harris, shared his thoughts on military service from previous generations and those now fighting.

Harris, a Hixson resident and recent commander of a Tennessee Army National Guard brigade that returned from Iraq in April, admonished the audience to remember all wars as they go about their daily lives.

"So what can we do?" he asked the audience. "I think we can start by keeping our servicemen and women and their families in our hearts. Keep Veterans Day solemn and say a little prayer for them."