PHILADELPHIA -- It was billed as the hero's welcome the city's Vietnam veterans never got: a huge parade followed by the unveiling of a monument in memory of 630 war dead.
When it was over, grateful veterans said wounds suffered in the unpopular conflict could finally begin to heal.
'Today we become whole again. The City of Brotherly Love cheers our brothers in arms,' District Attorney Ronald Castille, a disabled Vietnam veteran, told thousands of spectators who gathered Monday for the unveiling of the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The crowd, which included hundreds of veterans, cheered wildly as Castille told them Americans 'have not forgotten. We never did forget.'
Moments later, a rifle squad fired a 21-gun salute as a group of veterans, some wearing the tattered remnants of old uniforms, peeled back a plastic cover to reveal a wall of granite inscribed with the names of 630 Philadelphians who died while serving their country in Southeast Asia.
Also imprinted on the $600,000 monument were maps of Vietnam and a brief history of the conflict to assist in the education of future generations who come to 'ponder the reasons ... and appreciate the sacrifices' involved in the conflict, said Dennis Fink, president of the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Inc.
The monument was paid for largely through the efforts of the Last Patrol, 10 veterans who marched from Washington to Philadelphia this summer in a fund-raising drive.
The veterans carried tracings of the names of Philadelphia's 630 war dead taken from the Vietnam memorial in Washington. During Monday's ceremony, the tracings were buried in a vault behind the memorial.
Earlier Monday, some 5,000 veterans and veterans' families marched through the city under brilliant sunshine in a memorial parade leading to the monument.
The nine Philadelphia servicemen listed as missing in action in the war were represented at the head of the parade by a flatbed truck carrying nine empty chairs, each adorned with a soldier's boots, helmet and rifle.
Marching behind the truck were city dignitaries, followed by 630 children, each carrying the name of one of the 630 slain Philadelphia servicemen.
The ceremony capped a weekend of special veterans activities, including a candlelight procession to the monument Sunday night.
The monument was designed by Perry Morgan, 27, a Philadelphia landscape architect, whose design was chosen over 102 other entries in a national competition.