WASHINGTON President Barack Obama laid a flowered wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns Nov. 11 in a traditional display of remembrance and gratitude for every service member who has worn the nation’s uniform.
Also attending the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery were First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
“Each year, on the 11th day of the 11th month, we pause as a nation and as a people to pay tribute to you, to thank you, to honor you, the heroes over the generations who have served this country of ours with distinction,” Obama said. He also acknowledged the toll taken on veterans’ loved ones, who he said continue to “walk these quiet hills and kneel before a final resting place of those they cherish the most.”
The president assured that the sacrifices of living and fallen veterans and their families and friends would never be forgotten.
“It is in that sacrifice that we see the enduring spirit of America. … Since even before our founding, we have been blessed with an unbroken chain of patriots who have always come forward to serve,” Obama said. “Time and again, at home and abroad, you and your families have sacrificed to protect that powerful promise that all of us hold so dear: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Though he acknowledged the gratitude of the nation, the president also noted that no ceremony, parade, hug or handshake is enough to truly honor veterans’ service.
“We must commit this day and every day to serving you as well as you’ve served us,” the president said.
Obama related the significance of today’s service members, the 9/11 generation that “stepped forward after the towers fell and in the years since have stepped into history.”
“You toppled a dictator and battled insurgency in Iraq,” he said. “You pushed back the Taliban and decimated al-Qaida in Afghanistan. You delivered justice to Osama bin Laden.”
These deeds drive the commitment to care for veterans, as more than a million warriors will transition back into civilian life over the next few years, the president said.
“This is the first Veterans Day in a decade in which there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq,” the president said over applause, adding that 33,000 troops also have returned from Afghanistan.
“Our heroes are coming home. … They’ll take off their uniforms and take on a new and lasting role: they will be veterans,” he said.
As veterans return, the president explained, it falls to Americans as fellow citizens to be there for them and their families as those who once wore the uniform now find new ways to serve.
“Some of our most patriotic businesses have hired and trained 125,000 veterans and military spouses,” the president said.
He also pledged to maintain the 9/11 GI Bill, which has helped thousands of veterans pursue their education, including certifications, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees.
Obama also pledged to champion the cause of those who suffer invisible wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. “No veteran should have to wait months or years for the benefits that you’ve earned, so we will continue to attack the claims backlog,” Obama said.
And as the United States marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the president said the government has secured new disability benefits for veterans who fought there and were exposed to Agent Orange.
“We carry on knowing that our best days always lie ahead,” Obama said. “You needed it, you fought for it, and we got it done.”