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Published: Friday, 11/23/2007

Nation, troops give thanks

FROM THE BLADE'S WIRE SERVICES

NEW YORK - Hundreds of thousands lined up to see Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade while across the country, millions celebrated the holiday by watching football and lingering at the table after stuffing themselves with turkey.

Unseasonably balmy weather, with temperatures around 60 degrees, helped draw crowds to the parade route in New York City to see the floats, helium balloons, marching bands, and roller-blading clowns.

In Detroit, drizzle, snow, and temperatures in the 30s didn't deter thousands of people from lining up to watch America's Thanksgiving Parade.

The parade route passed the site of the old Hudson's department store, now a parking garage. For decades, Hudson's sponsored the parade. The towering store itself closed in the 1980s, and the Hudson's chain merged into what now is the Macy's Inc. chain.

The parades headlined observances across the nation that also featured football and family dinners with too much food on the table.

President Bush, spending the holiday at the Camp David retreat in Maryland, called several men and women serving in the armed forces in Iraq.

"He called to wish the members of the military and their families and the troops that they are serving with a happy Thanksgiving," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

"He said, 'I can't tell you how impressed I am by the courage and compassion of our troops.' He thanked them for their service," she said.

At the U.S. base called Camp Speicher, in Tikrit, Iraq, the military put on a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner in a mess hall decked out with red, orange, and brown paper streamers and other decorations.

Cpl. Brandon Henry, 23, from Winchester, Va., said he has been in the Army for four years and hasn't spent Thanksgiving in the United States since he joined.

"So it'll be five Thanksgivings, five Christmases, and four birthdays spent away from home, by the time I get done here," he said. "This is my family here - the Army in general - so I don't feel like I'm away from home."

During a whirlwind tour of Army mess halls yesterday, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, asked soldiers scheduled to head home over the next few days to tell Americans of progress in their corner of Iraq.

"When you go back, you need to convey a sense you have achieved progress that you should all feel proud about," the general told U.S. troops in Baqouba. "You helped give a sense that this can be done. It is a task that is doable."

Most of the 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division is scheduled to leave its base today for a roughly five-day journey back to Fort Hood, Texas. The rest will leave early next week.

"I'm thankful that I'm going home, being able to count the days that I'm going home," said Cpl. Wes Brooks, 24, of Buford, Ga., "and that I'm alive."

The battalion lost 28 soldiers over the past 14 months, the most in the brigade.

Sgt. Darrell Buck, 29, of Edmond, Okla., a sniper, said he was "extremely disappointed" that he missed Thanksgiving with his wife and 11-month-old daughter, Layla, whom he hasn't seen since he flew back to see her birth, but, he said, "it's all for a good cause."

He ate a pizza from Pizza Hut, which recently opened on Forward Operating Base Warhorse, instead of turkey because the pizza was "something a little closer to home."

The dining hall was serving turkey, but it wasn't grandma's.

During lunch hours, turkey was served in chunks, soaked in gravy. But there was also prime rib, honey-glazed ham, and shrimp cocktail. The serving lines stretched for an hour and a half at times.

In Afghanistan, a mixed group of soldiers at Forward Operating Base Airborne filed into the mess tent before evening carrying heaps of food for a Thanksgiving gathering.

At one plywood table was a Special Forces staff sergeant who was born in Turkey.

"No names, please," he said.

At another was Capt. Walter P. De La Vega of the Army, who trains and supervises the Afghan security forces in Wardak province. He was born in Peru and reared in New Jersey.

Sgt. Kevin J. Quinones, an acoustic guitar player in camouflage, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. When he strummed and sang America the Beautiful, the soldiers set aside their food and stood.

A cook who prepared the turkey, Spc. Yevgeny Goussev, was born in Moscow and received a work visa to the United States in 2002. He was a reserve artillery lieutenant in the Russian Army, although he said his commission was probably voided when he enlisted in the U.S. Army last year.

Specialist Goussev became a U.S. citizen this month. He said he understood what this American holiday meant.

"Thanksgiving is to share with other people, and not expecting anything in return," he said.

The crew of the space station put together a special Thanksgiving message that was aired on NASA Television and the agency's Web site - http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.

"We wanted to say happy Thanksgiving to all our NASA viewers," said Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson, an Iowa native.



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