Nation remembers veterans’ sacrifices

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ARLINGTON, Va. — President Barack Obama saluted Americans who died in battle and made special mention on Memorial Day of the families of lost loved ones “who represent the best of who we are.”

In comments at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, Obama said most Americans don’t understand the sacrifice made by the 1 percent of the population that serves in the all-volunteer Armed Forces. But when he meets with “Gold Star” families that have lost loved ones through military service, Obama said he hears “their pride through their tears.”

“I see that their hearts are still broken, and yet still full of love,” he said. “They do not ask for awards or honors. They do not ask for special treatment. They are unfailingly humble. In the face of unspeakable loss, they represent the best of who we are.”

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Obama’s appearance is an annual rite for presidents at the cemetery nestled among hills overlooking the Potomac River. Before his remarks, Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He bowed his head briefly and listened with others as “Taps” was sounded.

Introducing Obama, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said: “We, your fellow Americans, lack the words to describe what you feel today because try as we may, and try as we do, we can never fully know. But we do know what your sacrifice means to us.”

Obama said the markers at Arlington signify the blessings many Americans enjoy and the debt owed those who gave their lives for their country.

“It’s a debt we can never fully repay,” he said, “but it is a debt we will never stop trying to fully repay.”

Speaking under sunny skies to some 5,000 people in an amphitheater on the hallowed grounds of the cemetery, Obama said the graveyard is “more than a final resting place of heroes.”

“It is a reflection of America itself,” he said, citing racial and religious diversity in the backgrounds of the men and woman who paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve “the ideals that bind us as one nation.”

He noted that Monday was the first Memorial Day in 14 years without U.S. forces engaged in a major ground war. Obama said most of the remaining troops should be removed from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

The president recognized the more than 2,200 patriots who sacrificed themselves in Afghanistan, including the final two killed before the U.S. combat mission ended late last year. He also recognized the first American killed during the “new mission” to train Afghan forces, an Army medic who died in April.

Earlier, troops stationed in that war-wracked country observed a moment of silence in honor of fallen comrades there.