A quote etched in the black granite of the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial proved relevant for three skinny teenagers who had off from school yesterday.
"For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know," the quote reads.
On March 7, the three Bucks County teens used their freedom to in-line skate all over the Society Hill memorial's concrete steps, metal railings, and steep granite walls. They were arrested and charged with vandalism.
Yesterday, as part of their plea agreement, the teens found out the memorial was more than just concrete and granite as they attended Memorial Day services there with hundreds of veterans who fought in Vietnam and other conflicts.
The teens, all juniors at Central Bucks West High School, stood in the shade of the honey locust trees on the memorial's grassy berm in their jeans and skateboard shoes.
They removed their fitted baseball caps for the "Star-Spangled Banner" and stared straight ahead when the speakers mentioned the $6,425 in damages they had caused there.
"They're not bad kids," said Terry Williamson, a Marine veteran and the memorial fund's president.
"They just didn't think or had no idea what this memorial stands for."
Along with attending the service, the teens will also perform community service at Veterans Hospitals and help clean the memorial grounds.
One teen's father, a stone mason, is going to help fix some of the damaged property and another father is working to help update the memorial's Web site, www.pvvm.org.
Patrick Doyle, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, said the justice system "wasn't out to destroy these kids' lives."
Instead, his office wanted the teens to have a greater respect for those who viewed the memorial as "sacred ground."
"This is a good day," Doyle said.
"We couldn't have asked for a better result."
Williamson would prefer that skaters simply respect their wishes and stay away, but he's realized that designers unwittingly created a popular, challenging, and secluded place to skate.
As a result, the memorial is under 24/7 video surveillance that can be viewed in real-time on the Web site and Williamson has also asked for increased security patrols from veterans and volunteers who could spot skaters and report them to police.
The skateboarders who yanked out "skate guards" on railings and walls on March 20 have yet to be captured.
The Bucks County teens didn't exactly want their presence revealed yesterday because they unsure how the crowd would react.
Jaime Capacete, father of one of the teens, said they were all handcuffed and spent a night in jail over the incident
"We're doing what he had to do, what the courts ordered us to do," said Capacete, 52, of Doylestown. "They're good kids, they've never been in trouble before this."
The teens didn't have any trouble from the vets, though, even the tattooed bikers who went by nicknames like "Cujo" and "Throttle."
Both men said the act was "disrespectful" but were glad the "kids" had the moxie to show up.
"All they did was look at this place and see a nice place to skate on," said "Cujo." "It's good they came, though."
Tom Murtha, a 76-year-old veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam, seemed to have his entire timeline with the Marine Corps tattooed on his wiry arms.
Murtha said Memorial Day was no "holiday" and was planning to visit dozens of memorials by day's end on his Harley Davidson.
"This is Memorial Day. It's not a day off from school, or at day at the shore or a day to barbecue and drink a few beers," he said.
"The kids should know that this is why they don't have school today. They should see the grown men crying here."
After the ceremony, the teens toured the memorial with their families, as lone veterans wandered and saluted the flag or touched one of the names etched in the dark walls.
"We're remorseful. We came here today to see what this place was all about," said one of the teens, a 17-year-old, before he left.
"We learned a lot. We're glad we came." *