President Obama Pays Tribute to Service Members, Families at Arlington
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 26, 2014 While it is fitting to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, it is also a time to remember those most directly affected by their deaths, President Barack Obama said today during Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery.
Obama placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then spoke to an audience of more than 3,000 people in the Memorial Amphitheatre. In the crowd were members of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors -- many of them children.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a veteran of combat in Vietnam, introduced the president, calling him “an exceptional leader” who is working through the U.S. military’s transition from 13 years of war.
Obama noted that Arlington Cemetery itself is marking its 150th anniversary this year. Founded to bury the thousands of Union dead from the Overland Campaign in Virginia, the cemetery has become the place where “Americans have come here to pay tribute not only to the loved ones who meant the world to them, but to all our heroes, known and unknown,” he said.
The legions of dead started with the Civil War and follow America’s wars to the present day. In section 60 lie men and women who gave their lives to keep the nation safe over more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president returned from a visit to Afghanistan only hours before his speech. While at Bagram Airfield, he met with U.S. leaders and more than 3,000 service members. “For more than 12 years, men and women like those I met with have borne the burden of our nation's security,” he told the audience gathered in the amphitheater.
“Now, because of their profound sacrifice, because of the progress that they have made, we're in a pivotal moment,” Obama said. “Our troops are coming home. By the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end.”
But that war claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 American patriots, he said.
“We will honor them always,” the president said. “Today in small towns across America, in cemeteries throughout our country and around the world, and here on these solemn hillsides, the families of our fallen share stories of the lives they led. Our hearts ache in their absence, but our hearts are also full, full in knowing that their legacy shines bright in the people that they loved the most.”
The families of these men and women “have tapped a courage and resolve that many of us will never know, and we draw comfort and strength from their example,” he continued.
For parents who have lost a child, for husbands and wives who have lost partners and for children who have lost parents, “this day and this place are solemn reminders of the extraordinary sacrifice they have made in our name,” Obama said. “But today reminds us, as well, that for these families and for their comrades-in-arms, their service to our nation endures.”
Their sacrifices have not been in vain, he said.
“So here on these hallowed grounds, we re-dedicate ourselves to our sacred obligations to all who wear America’s uniform and to the families who stand by them always: that our troops will have the resources they need to do their job,” the president said, “that our nation will never stop searching for those who have gone missing [or] who are held as prisoners of war [and] that, as we have been reminded in recent days, we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they've earned and that they deserve.”
Those who died in defense of freedom did so to ensure people they never met could live their lives, he said.
“Everything that we hold precious in this country was made possible by Americans who gave their all,” Obama said. “And because of them, our nation is stronger, safer, and will always remain a shining beacon of freedom for the rest of the world.”