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Obama: Veterans Day Highest Honor Americans Can Bestow On Those Who Served

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2016 — Veterans Day honors Americans who gave their country the nation’s highest form of service, President Barack Obama said today at Arlington National Cemetery following a wreath-laying a ceremony at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

President Barack Obama lays a wreath during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
President Barack Obama lays a wreath during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
President Barack Obama lays a wreath during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith Top News: Obama Honors Veterans at Arlington
President Barack Obama lays a wreath during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

The president addressed veterans, families and senior military and government officials at the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater, where draped American flags encircled the arena and fluttered in the morning breeze.

“You who once wore the uniform of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard,” Obama said. “We owe you our thanks, we owe you our respect and we owe you our freedom.”

A Day To Express Gratitude

On Veterans Day, Americans come together to express profound gratitude for the sacrifices and contributions veterans and their families made on the battlefield, at home and at outposts around the world, he noted.

“But America's gratitude to our veterans is something always grounded in something greater than what you did on duty,” the president emphasized. “It's also an appreciation of the example that you continue to set after your service has ended: your example as citizens.”

Veterans Day often follows a hard-fought political campaign, an exercise in the free speech and self-government for which veterans fought, he said.

Referring to this week’s presidential election, Obama said elections often "lay bare disagreements across our nation, but the American instinct has never been to find isolation in opposite corners. It is to find strength in our common creed, to forge unity from our great diversity, to sustain that strength and unity, even when it is hard.”

And when the election is over, “we search for ways to come together, to reconnect with one another and with the principles that are more enduring and transitory politics,” he added.

Veterans: Best Examples of a Team

Some of the best examples of that spirit are the men and women we salute on Veterans Day, the president said. “It's the example of young Americans, our 9/11 generation, who as first responders ran into smoldering towers [and] then ran to a recruiting center and signed up to serve. It's the example of a military that meets every mission; one united team all looking out for one another, all getting each other's backs.”

And, “It's the example of the single most diverse institution in our country, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who represent every corner of our country, every shade of humanity; immigrant and native-born, Christian, Muslim, Jew and nonbeliever alike all forged into common service,” Obama said. 

Defense Secretary Ash Carter renders honors as Robert Swan, national commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, leads the Pledge of Allegiance during Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
Defense Secretary Ash Carter renders honors as Robert Swan, national commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, leads the Pledge of Allegiance during Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
Defense Secretary Ash Carter renders honors as Robert Swan, national commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, leads the Pledge of Allegiance during Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith Arlington Ceremony
Defense Secretary Ash Carter renders honors as Robert Swan, national commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, leads the Pledge of Allegiance during Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 11, 2016. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

It's the example of our veterans and patriots, he added, who -- when they take off their uniforms -- put back on the camouflage of everyday life in America and become our business partners and bosses, our teachers and our coaches, our first responders, city council members, community leaders and role models, all still serving this country we love with the same sense of duty and with valor.

Citizens Must Advocate For Veterans

“Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness and selflessness is possible,” the president said, “then stop and look to a veteran. They don't always go around telling stories of their heroism, so it's up to us to ask and to listen, to tell those stories for them and to live in our own lives the values for which they were prepared to give theirs. It's up to us to make sure they always get the care that they need.”

When he announced his presidential candidacy nearly a decade ago, he “recommitted this generation to that work,” Obama said, adding, “And we've increased funding for veterans by more than 85 percent, we've cut veterans homelessness almost in half. Today, more veterans have access to health care and fewer are unemployed. We help disabled veterans afford prosthetics.”

The nation now delivers more mental health care services to more veterans than ever before, because Americans know not all wounds of war are visible, he noted.

Stand Together With Veterans

“Together, we began this work. Together, we must continue to keep that sacred trust with our veterans and honor their good work with our own, knowing that our mission is never done,” Obama said.

The president emphasized the tragedy that remains as every day, an average of 20 veterans take their own lives.

“We have to get them the help they need,” he said. “We have to keep solving problems like long wait times at [Veterans Affairs medical treatment facilities]. We have to keep cutting the disability claims backlog. We have to resist any effort to outsource and privatize the health care we owe America's veterans.”

Ultimately, the president said, America must remember the sacrifices of its veterans.

“On Veterans Day, we acknowledge humbly that we can never serve our veterans in quite the same way that they served us, but we can try,” Obama told the audience. “We can practice kindness, we can pay it forward, we can volunteer, we can serve, we can respect one another, we can always get each other’s’ backs. That is what Veterans Day asks all of us to think about.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)