At Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2012 was a day of comfort, solace and messages filled with the reminder of sacrifice by Family members left behind due to the scourge of war. At the annual memorial amphitheater observance, President Barack Obama addressed the loved ones of deceased servicemembers, the bereaved and those present to honor American military patriots.
Following the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns by Obama and Joint Base Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington Commander Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, the assembled speakers addressed the audience on specific subjects. The president, along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, spoke of Family, those who died and those who survived the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Today, we come together, as Americans, to pray, to reflect, and to remember these heroes. But tomorrow, this hallowed place will once again belong to a smaller group of visitors who make their way through the gates and across these fields in the heat and in the cold, in the rain and the snow, following a well-worn path to a certain spot and kneeling in front of a familiar headstone,” the president said of those who daily visit deceased Family members at ANC.
Obama received his largest ovation when he vowed not to abandon surviving veterans and their entitlements.
“To all our men and women in uniform who are here today, know this: The patriots who rest beneath these hills were fighting for many things for their Families, for their flag but above all, they were fighting for you,” Obama said. “As long as I'm president, we will make sure you and your loved ones receive the benefits you've earned and the respect you deserve. America will be there for you.”
Before Obama's address, Pannetta saluted servicemembers who lost their lives during the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan and made special mention of the Vietnam veteran on the half-century anniversary of the beginning of American involvement in the Southeast Asia conflict.
“As we have for the past 10 Memorial Days, today we still gather at a time of war,” Panetta said. “Today the American people remember the more than 6,400 heroes who have died in defense of our nation since September 11th. Today we will also pay tribute to the 58,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who died in Vietnam on this 50th anniversary of that war. They and their Families have paid a price beyond measure. But because of their sacrifice, we are free and we are secure. We are safer because they were willing to put their lives on the line.”
First to speak at the 144th ANC Memorial Day observance was Dempsey. He reached out to veterans, Family members of fallen servicemembers and the youth that will soon carry the torch of remembrance, and he offered an idea to help the healing. Dempsey championed that fellow Americans should continue to position themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with grieving Americans who have been tragically touched by recent military fatalities and older countrymen who still are inflicted by flashbacks of the fallen who gave their last measure of devotion in either Europe, North Africa, Asia or the South Pacific.
“The memory is ours,” Dempsey said. “On Memorial Day, we honor that memory with heart-felt ceremonies across this land. The pageantry is a manifestation of the sacred bond of trust between the military Family and our larger American Family. But what really counts is that we nurture that bond with those who are still here and how we can turn that memory into action. Today, we stand behind Families that will never be whole again.”
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall provided significant support at the event. The 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) provided troops and escorts during the 90-degree holiday heat. The Presidential Salute Battery of TOG rendered the 21-gun salute upon the arrival of the president.
A pre-event concert was performed by The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing's Own,” and the group supplied the music during the observance. Master Sgt. Allyn Van Patten of TUSAB was the program's bugler while Sgt. Maj. Myles Overton handled the special percussion duties.
During the ceremony, The U.S. Army Band musical trio of Master Sgt. Michael Ford, Sgt. 1st Class Leigh Ann Hinton and Staff Sgt. Andre McRae combined their voices to perform the song ”Last Full Measure of Devotion”.
The ceremony's wreath bearer was Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stackpole, sergeant of the guard, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).