HANOI, Vietnam -- Veterans with medal-covered uniforms were among about 13,000 people who celebrated Vietnam's National Day on Friday by parading through Ba Dinh Square, where beloved late president Ho Chi Minh declared independence 60 years ago.
The veterans were accompanied by ribbon-covered floats, women wearing flowing "ao dai" tunics, and ethnic groups dressed in traditional garb.
The parade, showcasing all sectors of the military, police and civil service, marched past the granite mausoleum, which holds the embalmed remains of the revolutionary leader known here simply as "Uncle Ho."
"I'm very moved to be here today," said Le Tuyet Minh, 82, who was in a crowd of nearly 1 million people in the same square in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh made the announcement. "Our lives are now much better, but Vietnam remains a very poor country. We need to work much harder."
Security was tight at the invitation-only festivities, which began with a 21-gun salute and ended later on a humid night with a big fireworks display.
Top leaders, including Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, Communist Party Chief Nong Duc Manh and legendary Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap -- the military mastermind behind the wars with the French and Americans -- joined President Tran Duc Luong on the mausoleum's balcony to celebrate the country's accomplishments.
"The victory of the August Revolution and the birth of a new Vietnam were historic milestones, shattering nearly a century of cruel colonial rule and fascism ... ushering in a new era in the nation's history, an era of independence and freedom," Luong said in a speech.
In the spring of 1945, Ho Chi Minh's communist League for the Independence of Vietnam, better known as the Viet Minh, controlled large parts of the country that the Japanese had taken over from the French during World War II.
In mid-August, Ho Chi Minh called for a general uprising, and on Sept. 2 -- the same day Japan formally surrendered after conceding defeat to the allies on Aug. 15 -- he declared independence before large crowds gathered at Ba Dinh Square, ending more than 80 years of French colonial rule.
Several months later, the French returned and Ho Chi Minh and his forces fled to the northern jungles where they fought another eight years before France surrendered at the battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954.
The Americans came next and Vietnam fought another long, bloody war that ended 30 years ago on April 30, 1975, with the north and south unified under communist rule.
Since then, following a period of severe poverty and isolation, Vietnam has begun opening up to the world. Capitalism is alive on every street corner with everything from fancy restaurants and hotels to street vendors hocking lottery tickets. The country is working to enter the World Trade Organization and posted the region's second-highest economic growth last year after China.
"I've seen major changes in Vietnam, however there are still problems and difficulties that need to be overcome," said Vo Sy Dang, 70, who lives in Paris. "Looking back on what we have done over the past 60 years, we are proud to be Vietnamese."