ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. – Binding the wounds of war is the priority for our nation, President Barack Obama said during the Memorial Day observance May 28.
Representing all Americans, the president placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then spoke at the Memorial Amphitheatre.
“Today we come together as Americans to pray, to reflect and to remember these heroes,” he said. “But tomorrow this hallowed place will once again belong to a smaller group of visitors … following a well-worn path to a certain spot and kneeling in front of a familiar headstone. You are the family and friends of the fallen.”
Those who have lost a loved one “leave a piece of yourselves beneath these trees,” the president said. “You, too, call this sanctuary home.”
The president noted that for the first time in nine years Americans are not fighting and dying in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan is winding down, he said, and U.S. troops deployed there will come home. “After a decade under the dark cloud of war, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” he said.
With the war in Iraq over, the president put the scale of the sacrifice in perspective. He spoke of the four Marines who died in a helicopter crash on the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre, Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy and Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Watersbey were the first casualties of the war. He then spoke of the last of the nearly 4,500 casualties: Army Spc. David Hickman who was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad a month before the last Americans left Iraq in December.
The president spoke about meeting the Hickman family at Fort Bragg, N.C. “Right now, the Hickmans are beginning a very difficult journey that so many of your families have traveled before them – a journey that more families will take in the months and years ahead,” he said.
Obama spoke directly to the families of the fallen and shared what he told the Hickmans: that there is no more wrenching decision as president than sending service members into harm’s way.
“I can promise you that I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary,” he said. “Then when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation.”
Americans need to help the families facing such tragedy, the president said. “As a country, all of us can and should ask ourselves how we can help you shoulder a burden that no one should have to bear alone.
“As we honor your mothers and fathers, your sons and daughters who have given their last full measure of devotion to this country, we have to ask ourselves how we can support you and your families, and give you some strength.”
The best way to help is to remember the sacrifices and to remember the dead as not just a line in the newspaper, but as individuals, Obama said. The country can honor them by meeting its obligations to those who did come home, he added.
“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 am president, we will make sure you and your loved ones will receive the benefits you’ve earned and the respect you deserve. America will be there for you.”