President Barack Obama laid a flowered wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns Nov. 11, and after thanking all veterans, he said more than a million warriors will transition back into civilian life over the next few years.
“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.
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,” Obama said.
He pledged to maintain the post-9/11 GI Bill, which has helped thousands of veterans pursue their education, including certifications, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees.
“We must commit this day and every day to serving you as well as you’ve served us,” the president said.
“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.”
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 Qaeda 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.
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.”
Also at the cemetery were First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.