Mayor Bloomberg, thank you for your leadership, especially over these last few weeks, for your hospitality for us and our veterans here.
United Veterans War Council leaders, Vince McGowan, Harvey Bagg, Pat Gualtieri, who made this possible, parade sponsors, all of you who have come here today, thank you. I’m here on behalf of the Department of Defense, your Department of Defense, and Secretary Panetta, to honor those who have gone before us in defending this great nation.
And over the last few weeks, the country has been obviously focused intently on helping this region recover from Hurricane Sandy. Lives have been lost, communities have been disrupted, but people have reached out to one another to rebuild. First responders and emergency personnel assisted when asked by federal agencies including FEMA, and us, our Coast Guard, National Guard, everything we have, and then the nongovernmental organizations, and volunteers. So there is much to be done, but what you have seen is Americans putting the lives of others ahead of themselves. And, this kind of sacrifice is what makes our country so strong and resilient. But, no group embodies that spirit more than our military that we honor today.
So first, to those serving in the military now, you have the nation’s gratitude. Over 68,000 of America’s best women and men fight today in the valleys of Afghanistan and the mountains of Afghanistan. Many thousands more are stationed around the world.
Next, to the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation, and to all who bear the wounds of war, we lack the words to say what you feel on this day because try as we may, and try as we do, we can never fully know. But we do know what your sacrifices mean to us, to this nation, and to a world that still depends so much on America for its security.
Finally, and the reason for today’s ceremony, to our veterans, represented by those who march so proudly today. This nation has a sacred obligation to take care of you. And this past Memorial Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, President Obama asked us to remember a generation of servicemembers who served in Vietnam with as much patriotism and honor as any generation before or since, but who all too often did not hear the simple words they so richly deserved, welcome home. To them and as importantly, to their families, once again, welcome home and thank you for your service, your valor, and your sacrifice. (applause)
Now another era is coming to an end. As we emerge from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and transition to a new and different era to come, we commit to welcoming home this generation of servicemembers. That means providing them with the best health care, and also the training and support they need to find a job, pursue higher education, or start a business. This is not the commitment of the government alone. Through programs like the President’s Joining Forces initiative, companies and organizations across the country, including many here today, are helping our servicemembers learn new skills, find work, and apply their awesome capabilities to their new future. To all that have hired our veterans, you have our gratitude.
So, today is a day of remembrance and thanks. To our veterans, we remain forever indebted to you and your families for all you have done to protect this great country. We honor you, today and every day. (applause).