DoD photo by U.S. Navy
Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
Barack Obama Forty-Fourth President
(2009 to 2017)
Remarks On Memorial Day 2009
Memorial Amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery
May 25, 2009
The text of the address is below
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Admiral Mullen, for that
generous introduction and for your sterling service to our country.
To members of our armed forces, to our veterans, to honored guests,
and families of the fallen -- I am deeply honored to be with you on
Thank you to the superintendent, John Metzler, Jr., who cares for
these grounds just as his father did before him; to the Third
Infantry Regiment who, regardless of weather or hour, guard the
sanctity of this hallowed ground with the reverence it deserves --
we are grateful to you; to service members from every branch of the
military who, each Memorial Day, place an American flag before every
single stone in this cemetery -- we thank you as well. (Applause.)
We are indebted -- we are indebted to all who tend to this sacred
Here lie Presidents and privates; Supreme Court justices and slaves;
generals familiar to history, and unknown soldiers known only to
A few moments ago, I laid a wreath at their tomb to pay tribute to
all who have given their lives for this country. As a nation, we
have gathered here to repeat this ritual in moments of peace, when
we pay our respects to the fallen and give thanks for their
sacrifice. And we've gathered here in moments of war, when the
somber notes of Taps echo through the trees, and fresh grief lingers
in the air.
Today is one of those moments, 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.
Old soldiers are pulling themselves a little straighter to salute
brothers lost a long time ago. Children are running their fingers
over colorful ribbons that they know signify something of great
consequence, even if they don't know exactly why. Mothers are
re-reading final letters home and clutching photos of smiling sons
or daughters, as youthful and vibrant as they always will be.
They, and we, are 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.
Those who rest in these fields fought in every American war. They
overthrew an empire and gave birth to revolution. 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
Their stories are the American story. More than seven generations of
them are chronicled here at Arlington. They're etched into stone,
recounted by family and friends, and silently observed by the mighty
oaks that have stood over burial after burial.
To walk these grounds then is to walk through that history. Not far
from here, appropriately just across a bridge connecting Lincoln to
Lee, Union and Confederate soldiers share the same land in
Just down the sweeping hill behind me rest those we lost in World
War II, fresh-faced GIs who rose to the moment by unleashing a fury
that saved the world. Next week, I'll visit Normandy, the place
where our fate hung on an operation unlike any ever attempted, where
it will be my tremendous honor to address some of the brave men who
stormed those beaches 65 years ago.
And tucked in a quiet corner to our north are thousands of those we
lost in Vietnam. We know for many the casualties of that war endure
-- right now, there are veterans suffering and families tracing
their fingers over black granite not two miles from here. They are
why we pledge anew to remember their service and revere their
sacrifice, and honor them as they deserve.
This cemetery is in and of itself a testament to the price our
nation has paid for freedom. A quarter of a million marble
headstones dot these rolling hills in perfect military order, worthy
of the dignity of those who rest here. It can seem overwhelming. But
for the families of the fallen, just one stone stands out -- one
stone that requires no map to find.
Today, some of those stones are found at the bottom of this hill in
Section 60, where the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan rest. The
wounds of war are fresh in Section 60. A steady stream of visitors
leaves reminders of life: photos, teddy bears, favorite magazines.
Friends place small stones as a sign they stopped by. Combat units
leave bottles of beer or stamp cigarettes into the ground as a
salute to those they rode in battle with. Perfect strangers visit in
their free time, compelled to tend to these heroes, to leave
flowers, to read poetry -- to make sure they don't get lonely.
If the fallen could speak to us, what would they say? Would they
console us? Perhaps they might say that while they could not know
they'd be called upon to storm a beach through a hail of gunfire,
they were willing to give up everything for the defense of our
freedom; that while they could not know they'd be called upon to
jump into the mountains of Afghanistan and seek an elusive enemy,
they were willing to sacrifice all for their country; that while
they couldn't possibly know they would be called to leave this world
for another, they were willing to take that chance to save the lives
of their brothers and sisters in arms.
What is thing, this sense of duty? What tugs at a person until he or
she says "Send me"? Why, in an age when so many have acted only in
pursuit of the narrowest self-interest, have the soldiers, sailors,
airmen and Marines of this generation volunteered all that they have
on behalf of others? Why have they been willing to bear the heaviest
Whatever it is, they felt some tug; they answered a call; they said
"I'll go." That is why they 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.
My grandfather served in Patton's Army in World War II. But I cannot
know what it is like to walk into battle. 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. But I do know this: I am humbled to
be the Commander-in-Chief of the finest fighting force in the
history of the world. (Applause.)
I know that there is nothing I will not do 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. And that's why as long as I am President, I
will only send our troops into harm's way when it is absolutely
necessary, and I will always provide them with the equipment and
support they need to get the job done. (Applause.)
I know that military families sacrifice more than we can understand,
and feel an absence greater than we can comprehend. And that's why
Michelle and I are committed to easing their burden.
And I know what a grateful nation owes to those who serve under its
proud flag. 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. (Applause.)
With each death, we are heartbroken. With each death, we grow more
determined. This bustling graveyard can be a restless place for the
living, where solace sometimes comes only from meeting others who
know similar grief. But it 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 together.
So on this day of silent remembrance and solemn prayer I ask all
Americans, wherever you are, whoever you're with, whatever you're
doing, to pause in national unity at 3:00 this afternoon. I ask you
to ring a bell, or offer a prayer, say a silent "thank you." And
commit to give something back to this nation -- something lasting --
in their memory; to affirm in our own lives and advance around the
world those enduring ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity
for which they and so many generations of Americans have given that
last full measure of devotion.
God bless you, God bless the fallen, and God bless the United States
of America. (Applause.)