President Barack Obama commemorated Veterans Day Nov. 11 at Arlington National Cemetery, calling the holiday a reminder of the nation’s “sacred obligation” to those who have “fought for our freedom and stood sentry for our security” throughout America’s history.
The United States must never forget those who have stood apart, volunteering their service and putting their lives on the line “so the ret of us might live in a country and a world that is safer, freer and more just,” he said.
“This is the gift they have given us,” the president said. “This is the debt that we owe them.”
Speaking to hundreds of veterans from every U.S. campaign, including audience member 107-year-old World War II veteran Richard Overton, Obama said this commitment is particularly important as forces in Afghanistan return home from the nation’s longest war.
“On tour after tour after tour in Iraq and Afghanistan … the 9/11 generation has met every mission we have asked of them,” Obama said. “And today, we can say that because of their heroic service, the core of Al-Qaida is on the path to defeat, our nation is more secure and our homeland is safer.”
He emphasized the importance of ensuring the service and sacrifice that made this possible isn’t forgotten after the mission is complete. “Even though this time of war is coming to a close, our time of service to our newest veterans has only just begun,” he said.
Just as the United States must ensure its troops are the best-led, -trained and –equipped, Obama said, “we have to devote just as much energy and passion to making sure we have the best-cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world.”
“So when we talk about fulfilling our promises to our veterans, we don’t just mean for a few years,” he said. “We mean now, tomorrow and forever. And not just for generations past, but for this generation of veterans and all who will follow.”
Obama promised to ensure the United States continues its “unprecedented support” for veterans, with measures to provide the services and benefits they have earned. He noted the Joining Forces campaign, which is helping veterans translate their experience into meaningful employment, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, which recently reached a milestone in awarding educational benefits to the 1 millionth recipient.
“That is our promise to you and all who’ve served, to be there, to support you when you come home every step of the way,” he said. “As a nation, we will strive to be worthy of the sacrifices you have made.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who introduced the president at the ceremony, praised the “unwavering support” the nation provides its veterans, survivors and their families.
“Veterans Day is about celebrating and honoring our veterans who have given so much for the rest of us,” he said. “It’s not just a one-day-a-year event. It an abiding commitment, every day of every year.”
Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at 11 a.m. – the exact time the original armistice was declared on Nov. 11, 1918, marking the end of World War I – before his comments in the Arlington National Cemetery amphitheater.