This story was updated and corrected at 1:35 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
Ninety-three-year-old Esko Hallila still remembers the day he decided to join the Marine Corps.
It was after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had declared war against Japan followed by the Pearl Harbor attacks.
“I was having dinner with my parents, and I put my soup spoon down and I said, ‘Mom, I am going in the military.’ ... I heard President Roosevelt ‘come over’ on my Philco radio,” said Sgt. Maj. Hallila, a World War II and Korean War veteran said.
During his military career, he taught other officers how to do electrical work.
He said the war was “something that you can’t forget. That’s in your mind all the time.”
On Friday, Hallila was among more than 70 veterans honored at the Veterans Expo hosted by Riderwood, a senior living community in Silver Spring.
It marked a Veterans Day kick-off event in which the retirement community and surrounding areas said “thank you” to the men and women in uniform.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” to celebrate the end of World War I. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation in 1954 to change the name to Veterans Day to honor those who served in all American wars.
The day honors military veterans with parades and speeches across the nation. A national ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Sgt. Otto Munoz of the Marine Corps, a service manager at Riderwood, said the country wouldn’t be where it is now if it weren’t for veterans who fought in the past.
“I am only here to say thank you, and it means a lot to have the opportunity to say thank you,” Munoz said to veterans at the event.
Munoz couldn’t describe the feeling when a veteran comes to him to express gratitude because it’s “someone coming from their caliber, from their past experiences, saying thank you to me. It just means a lot. It is unexplainable.”
The sergeant, who did two tours in Iraq and one in Peru, said that even though they were in a war, he learned what it meant to be part of a team.
“It doesn’t matter what race you are from, or what color you are; we are all green in the United States Marine Corps. We all wear the color green. We are all each other’s brothers and sisters,” Munoz said.
The event at Riderwood also had students who participate at the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program from John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring.
They formed the Color Guard and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in front of the veterans.
“Seeing all these veterans here today, it makes me feel honored and privileged to be in the United States,” said Oscar Rivra, 14, a freshmen at Kennedy High School and chief assistant administrator at the school’s junior reserve program.
Rivra plans to join the Marines or Navy SEALs.
The son of immigrants from El Salvador, Rivra explained that in his parents’ home country, they don’t have the same freedoms that Americans have, and he is thankful to be part of a place he can be free.
“Words can’t describe. Honestly, I couldn’t say thank you because I am that in awe,” Rivra said.
Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Jason Turner also participated at the expo and spoke about his 2003 tour in Iraq and his time in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.
“The uniform means everything to me. It is a great honor to wear this uniform,” Turner said.
And when people come randomly and show gratitude, Turner only humbly says, “You’re welcome.”
“I volunteered ... and they don’t have to say thank you. It is something that we do for them,” Turner said.
Turner said that, in the U.S., sometimes people take simple, everyday freedoms and rights, such as going to school, for granted.
“In Afghanistan, the girls don’t go to school. My daughter goes to school. She has a free life. She reads. She learns. She just brought her homework yesterday, and it is because of [veterans and] the things they’ve done in the past,” Turner added.
An earlier version of this story had an incorrect reference to Jason Turner’s rank.