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Obama Urges Remembrance in Memorial Day Remarks

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2013 – After laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery today, President Barack Obama paid tribute to American patriots from throughout the nation’s history in remarks at the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
President Barack Obama is assisted by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tanner Welch as he lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, May 27, 2013. Welch is the sergeant of the guard of the Tomb of the Unknowns, serving with “The Old Guard,” the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The president urged Americans to remember the sacrifices not only of those who pledged and even lost their lives to ensure the nation’s freedom, but also those of service members who wear the uniform today.

“As we go about our daily lives, we must remember that our countrymen are still serving, still fighting, still putting their lives on the line for all of us,” Obama said. “More than 60,000 of our fellow Americans still serve far from home in Afghanistan -- they’re still going out on patrol, still living in spartan forward operating bases, still risking their lives to carry out their mission.”

The president noted this year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, and he thanked those who served there, as well as an ever-shrinking number of World War II and Vietnam veterans.

“During World War II, millions of Americans contributed to the war effort -- soldiers like my own grandfather [and] women like my grandmother, who worked the assembly lines,” Obama said. “During the Vietnam War, just about everybody knew somebody -- a brother, a son, a friend -- who served in harm’s way.”

But today, things are different, the president said.

“Perhaps it’s a tribute to our remarkable all-volunteer force, … [or] perhaps it’s a testament to our advanced technologies, which allow smaller numbers of troops to wield greater and greater power,” the president said. “But regardless of the reason, this truth cannot be ignored: that today, most Americans are not directly touched by war.”

Still, Obama said, the character of the country continues to resonate in the nearly 7,000 Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice on battlefields and city streets half a world away since 9/11.

“Even as we turn the page on a decade of conflict, even as we look forward, let us never forget, as we gather here today, that our nation is still at war,” he said. “And this time next year, we will mark the final Memorial Day of our war in Afghanistan.”

With Americans no longer fighting and dying in Iraq and as the drawdown in Afghanistan continues into 2014, the president cited examples of service members whose character and selflessness call for Americans to remember their efforts.

Obama said he recently received a letter from a Navy Reserve officer who had just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan with concern that the work service members were doing there was fading from memory.

“He went on to ask that we do more to keep this conflict alive and focused in the hearts and minds of our own people,” Obama said.

The president also related the story of Army Capt. Sara Cullen, a U.S. Military Academy graduate who became a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. At age 27, she was killed in a crash along with four other soldiers during a training mission near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“This past April, Sara was laid to rest here, in Section 60,” Obama said. “Today, Sara is remembered by her mother, Lynn, who says she is proud of her daughter’s life, proud of her faith and proud of her service to our country.”

The president also remembered the sacrifice of Army Staff Sgt. Frankie Phillips, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and combat medic who perished May 4 when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle during a patrol.

“He was so humble that his parents never knew how many lives he had saved until soldiers started showing up at his funeral from thousands of miles away,” the president said. “And last week, Frankie was laid to rest just a few rows over from Sara.”

The president also commended the bravery of Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Eric Christian, a special operations Afghanistan veteran who served five tours of duty in his determination to “finish the mission.” On May 4, Christian was killed after escorting a high-ranking U.S. official to meet with Afghan leaders. Obama explained that Christian’s family got a letter from a fellow Marine who had served two tours with the fallen sergeant.

“In it, the Marine wrote, ‘There were people who measured their success based on how many enemies they killed or how many missions they led to conquer a foe,’” Obama read. “‘Eric based his success on how many of his friends he brought home, and he brought home many -- including me.’ Eric was laid to rest here at Arlington, just six days ago.”

The president emphasized that the nation must honor military families and hold them just as close, because “for the parents who lose a child, for the husbands and wives who lose a partner, for the children who lose a parent, every loss is devastating.”

One such family member, Candie Averette of Charlotte, N.C., wrote to the president about her two sons, who are Marines. Her oldest, she wrote, served two tours in Iraq, while her youngest was in Afghanistan at the time. Obama said it was clear she was extraordinarily proud of the life her boys had chosen. But she also had a request on behalf of all the mothers just like her.

“‘Please don’t forget about my child and every other Marine and soldier over there who proudly choose to defend their country,’” Obama read from her letter. “A mother’s plea -- please don’t forget.’ On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us be true and meet that promise.”

The president spoke of the “sacred obligation” to those who laid down their lives by keeping the promise of remembrance to U.S. troops and their families, providing them the resources they need and to never stop searching for those who have gone missing or who are held as prisoners of war.


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