Obama Honors Servicemembers' Ultimate Sacrifices for Freedom
(May 26, 2009)
|WASHINGTON, May 25, 2009 – President Barack Obama today hailed
U.S. military members' unselfish service and willingness to lay down their lives
on behalf of their fellow citizens during the annual Memorial Day observance at
Arlington National Cemetery.|
White House officials said the president returned from Camp David last night so
that this morning he could have breakfast with Gold Star Families in the State
Dining Room, participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown
Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and speak at the Memorial Amphitheater
at Arlington National Cemetery.
|President Barack Obama participates in a
wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington
National Cemetery Monday, May 25, 2009. White House Photo by
After being introduced by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama told an audience gathered inside the Memorial
Amphitheater that Arlington's hallowed grounds contain the remains of,
“presidents and privates, Supreme Court justices and slaves; generals familiar
to history, and unknown soldiers known only to God.”|
The annual Memorial Day observance has been held at Arlington “in moments of
peace, when we pay our respects to the fallen and give thanks for their
sacrifice,” Obama said, and also “in moments of war, when the somber notes of
Taps echo through the trees, and fresh grief lingers in the air.”
And, “today is one of those moments,” the president continued, “where we pay
tribute to those who forged our history, but hold closely the memory of those so
recently lost. And even as we gather here this morning, all across America,
people are pausing to remember, to mourn, and to pray.”
Moments before he entered the cemetery's amphitheater, Obama laid a ceremonial
wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which contains the remains of unidentified
soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. There was also a
crypt for a Vietnam War unknown, but genetic forensics later identified him as
Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie. The crypt is now empty.
More than 300,000 people are buried at Arlington Cemetery, includeing veterans
from all the nation's wars, from the American Revolution through Iraq and
Arlington's wreath-laying ceremony, Obama said, salutes “the legacies of an
unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor; who
waged war so that we might know peace; who braved hardship so that we might know
opportunity; who paid the ultimate price so we might know freedom.”
The generations of servicemembers that are buried at Arlington “fought in every
American war,” Obama pointed out.
“They overthrew an empire and gave birth to revolution,” Obama said of
Arlington's dead. “They strained to hold a young union together. They rolled
back the creeping tide of tyranny, and stood post through a long twilight
struggle. And they took on the terror and extremism that threatens our world's
Next week, Obama will visit Normandy, France, he said, to “address some of the
brave men who stormed those beaches 65 years ago” as part of the D-Day landings
during World War II.
Arlington Cemetery, Obama said, is “a testament to the price our nation has paid
for freedom.” The thousands of marble headstones that march up and down the
cemetery's hilly grounds and cover its flats, he said, are arrayed “in perfect
military order, worthy of the dignity of those who rest here.”
Section 60 is where the “fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan rest,” Obama said.
Servicemembers buried at Arlington who gave their lives during previous wars and
the fallen from Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, shared a common dedication to
duty and country.
“What is thing, this sense of duty?” Obama asked. And why, he continued, in
today's self-indulgent times, have “soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of
this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others” and “bear
the heaviest burden?”
And, just as their predecessors, today's military members serving in Iraq and
Afghanistan “felt some tug; they answered a call; they said, ‘I'll go,'" Obama
That's why, Obama said, America's servicemembers “are the best of America, and
that is what separates them from those of us who have not served in uniform --
their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met.”
Obama said his grandfather had served in Army Gen. George S. Patton's Army in
World War II.
“But I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle,” Obama said. “I'm the
father of two young girls -- but I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child.
These are things I cannot know.”
Yet, Obama declared that he “is humbled” to be the commander-in-chief “of the
finest fighting force in the history of the world.”
As U.S. president, Obama pledged “to keep our country safe, even as I face no
harder decision than sending our men and women to war -- and no moment more
difficult than writing a letter to the families of the fallen.”
Obama also said he'd only send troops into battle “when it is absolutely
necessary, and I will always provide them with the equipment and support they
need to get the job done.”
Military families “sacrifice more than we can understand,” Obama said, and those
who've lost loved ones to war “feel an absence greater than we can comprehend.”
America owes much “to those who serve under its proud flag,” Obama said. “And,
that's why I promise all our servicemen and women that when the guns fall
silent, and you do return home, it will be to an America that is forever here
for you, just as you've been there for us.”
The death of a loved one who died in service of their country is a
heart-breaking experience for those loved ones left behind, Obama said.
But, such a tragic event, he added, also “reminds us all the meaning of valor;
it reminds us all of our own obligations to one another; it recounts that most
precious aspect of our history, and tells us that we will only rise or fall
During his introduction of the commander-in-chief, Mullen also saluted U.S.
servicemembers' sacrifices on behalf of the nation.
Memorial Day is a time for Americans to remember and honor its fallen heroes
who've given the nation the gift of their ultimate sacrifice, Mullen said.
“What we do understand as it is revealed to us more fully each passing spring,”
Mullen said, “is how precious and very rare these gifts truly are, in and above
Mullen also praised Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their support of
America's servicemembers and families.
“In every possible way, he and our First Lady make our troops and their families
first; first in their daily lives, first in their thoughts, and first in their
hearts,” Mullen said.
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Comment on this article
President Barack Obama's
Remarks On Memorial Day - May 25, 2009