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Brandon Centeio (left),27, his dad Gary (middle),54, and wife Lindsey Dunbar-Centeio at the gravesite of a relative buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetary, in San Bruno, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009. The family visited the cemetery for the observance of Veterans Day. (John Green/Staff)

In veterans halls and cemeteries, at parades and even on an aircraft carrier, Bay Area communities joined cities and towns across the country Wednesday in honoring the men and women who have served in the military.

Thousands gathered at Veterans Day ceremonies across the region to thank local veterans for their service to the country.

"It makes me a little emotional," retired naval officer Art Arevalo said after two women shook his hand at Alameda County's ceremony in Fremont.

But as communities honored past sacrifices, they also acknowledged current events — 13 men and women killed in a shooting at Foot Hood, Texas, last week, and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Tracy, a somber crowd paid tribute to a local son who fell in combat, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Daniel L. Hansen, whose name was added to the Tracy War Memorial Wall. Hansen, 24, was killed Feb. 14 while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan.

His parents, Sheryll and Delbert Hansen, came from their home in Anchorage, Alaska, for the ceremony, joined by their son Matthew, Daniel's twin brother and also a Marine. Both men joined the Marines after graduating from West High School in Tracy in 2002.

Moment of silence

Aboard the USS Hornet Museum, in Alameda, where about 150 people gathered, Joseph Tanner — a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Oakley — played taps on his trumpet during a moment of silence to honor those killed at Fort Hood.

At Antioch's Veterans Day parade, Jeff Strawther held a sign telling people to remember last week's tragedy. Seeing news reports on television "just brought a lot of emotions," said Strawther, of Antioch.

Terry Otzmann, a member of the Blue Star Moms military support group, said it wasn't until her son joined the Army in 2006 that she grasped what military families give.

"I realize I hadn't truly understood the ongoing sacrifice and turmoil that was affording me those simple pleasures," she said at the San Ramon Valley Veterans Day ceremony in Danville. "And they have been fought for by men and women who have literally put their life on the line."

Warmer reception

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are getting a warmer reception than those coming back from Vietnam, said James Hart of Walnut Creek, who served in the Marine Corps from 1955 until 1980. But with multiple tours of duty putting an incredible strain on soldiers' mental and physical health, it's important not only to thank them but also to care for them back home.

"We need to improve that and look after our veterans in terms of their illnesses and injuries," said Hart, one of dozens of veterans recognized by a standing-room-only crowd at the Veterans Memorial Building in Lafayette.

Ceremonies were also held in Hayward and San Leandro, where American Legion Post 117 honored Gene Privette, a San Leandro veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, who died earlier this year.

In El Cerrito, about 60 veterans, Boy Scouts, service club members and other volunteers placed flags Wednesday morning on the graves of 1,400 deceased veterans at Mountain View cemetery. An observance and flag retirement ceremony at Fernandez Park in Pinole drew about 500 people.

San Mateo County veterans and their families commemorated the day with ceremonies in San Bruno, Pacifica and Redwood City, where six foreign-born armed service members became U.S. citizens.

The day was particularly emotional for Barbara Castro, of San Jose. She wiped tears from her eyes as she placed flowers at the grave of her father, Thomas Messall, at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. Messall served in World War II and died in 1962 of a heart attack.

Castro's 37-year-old daughter and 40-year-old son-in-law both recently returned safe from deployments in Iraq. Both were in combat zones, including a 2006 tour in Ramadi for her daughter.

"We just keep our fingers crossed that they don't go back again," she said.

Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Joshua Melvin, Angela Hill, Cindi Christie, Matthew Artz, Chris Treadway and Eric Louie contributed to this report.

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