Thousands attend Arizona's largest Memorial Day event

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- As people gathered for the largest Memorial Day celebration in the state, tens of thousands of American flags fluttered over the graves of Arizona's fallen at National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.

The ceremony took place at 8 a.m., started with a moment of silence and a flyover by five World War II bi-planes. In keeping with Memorial Day tradition, the pilots performed a missing man formation in which one plane breaks away from the group.

The lead pilot in the formation is a Vietnam veteran who also flew in a 50-plane formation over President John F. Kennedy's funeral.

Bruce Haffner gave 3TV's viewers a unique perspective of the flyover from the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper.

"They love honoring the veterans," Haffner said.

Veterans of America's major wars, including two survivors of Pearl Harbor, took part in the Parade of Colors.

"[Memorial Day] means a lot to me," said Pat Dillman, one of the thousands at National Memorial cemetery for Monday's morning's ceremony. "It's all our servicemen and women that have given their lives and it's a time to respect them and let them know we're here for them."

Veterans and family members shared stories of those killed in service to our country.

"To hear their stories is pretty remarkable," 3TV's Ryan O'Donnell said of the veterans who took part in the event. "It's wonderful to be out here and feel and experience exactly what Memorial Day is all about."

Monday morning's ceremony closed with the playing of "Taps" and the release of several white doves signifying the soul's final journey.

National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona is open daily, sunrise to sunset.

Originally known as Decoration Day, this federal holiday was established after the American Civil War. It was first meant to remember the more than 360,000 Union soldiers killed during the Civil War, but later expanded to include all Americans killed in all wars.

Americans killed in major wars

Civil War -- About 625,000

World War I -- 116,516

World War II - 405, 399

Korean War -- 36,516

Vietnam War -- 58,209

Afghanistan (ongoing) -- 1,893

Iraq 2003-2011 -- 4,484

Going back to the Revolutionary War in 1775, more than 1.3 million Americans have died in more than 70 different wars and conflicts. More than 38,000 were listed as missing.

Sources: Wikipedia and