Barack Obama Forty-Fourth President
(2009 to 2017)
Remarks On Memorial Day 2012
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia May 28, 2012
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please be seated. Good morning,
everybody. Thank you, Secretary Panetta, for your introduction and
for your incredible service to our country. To General Dempsey,
Major General Linnington, Kathryn Condon, Chaplain Berry, all of you
who are here today -- active duty, veterans, family and friends of
the fallen -- thank you for allowing me the privilege of joining you
in this sacred place to commemorate Memorial Day.
acres are home to Americans from every part of the country who gave
their lives in every corner of the globe. When a revolution needed
to be waged and a Union needed to be saved, they left their homes
and took up arms for the sake of an idea. From the jungles of
Vietnam to the mountains of Afghanistan, they stepped forward and
answered the call. They fought for a home they might never return
to; they fought for buddies they would never forget. And while their
stories may be separated by hundreds of years and thousands of
miles, they rest here, together, side-by-side, row-by-row, because
each of them loved this country, and everything it stands for, more
than life itself.
Today, we come together, as Americans, to
pray, to reflect, and to remember these heroes. But tomorrow, this
hallowed place will once again belong to a smaller group of visitors
who make their way through the gates and across these fields in the
heat and in the cold, in the rain and the snow, following a
well-worn path to a certain spot and kneeling in front of a familiar
You are the family and friends of the fallen --
the parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters
by birth and by sacrifice. And you, too, leave a piece of your
hearts beneath these trees. You, too, call this sanctuary home.
Together, your footsteps trace the path of our history. And this
Memorial Day, we mark another milestone. For the first time in nine
years, Americans are not fighting and dying in Iraq. (Applause.) We
are winding down the war in Afghanistan, and our troops will
continue to come home. (Applause.) After a decade under the dark
cloud of war, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon.
Especially for those who've lost a loved one, this chapter will
remain open long after the guns have fallen silent. Today, with the
war in Iraq finally over, it is fitting to pay tribute to the
sacrifice that spanned that conflict.
In March of 2003, on
the first day of the invasion, one of our helicopters crashed near
the Iraqi border with Kuwait. On it were four Marines: Major Jay
Aubin; Captain Ryan Beaupre; Corporal Brian Kennedy; and Staff
Sergeant Kendall Waters-Bey. Together, they became the first
American casualties of the Iraq war. Their families and friends
barely had time to register the beginning of the conflict before
being forced to confront its awesome costs.
seven months and 25 days later, Army Specialist David Hickman was on
patrol in Baghdad. That's when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb.
He became the last of nearly 4,500 American patriots to give their
lives in Iraq. A month after David's death -- the days before the
last American troops, including David, were scheduled to come home
-- I met with the Hickman family at Fort Bragg. Right now, the
Hickmans are beginning a very difficult journey that so many of your
families have traveled before them -- a journey that even more
families will take in the months and years ahead.
families here today, I repeat what I said to the Hickmans: I cannot
begin to fully understand your loss. As a father, I cannot begin to
imagine what it's like to hear that knock on the door and learn that
your worst fears have come true. But as Commander-In-Chief, I can
tell you that sending our troops into harm's way is the most
wrenching decision that I have to make. I can promise you I will
never do so unless it's absolutely necessary, and that when we do,
we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a
grateful nation. (Applause.)
And as a country, all of us can
and should ask ourselves how we can help you shoulder a burden that
nobody should have to bear alone. As we honor your mothers and
fathers, your sons and daughters, we have given -- who have given
their last full measure of devotion to this country, we have to ask
ourselves how can we support you and your families and give you some
One thing we can do is remember these heroes as you
remember them -- not just as a rank, or a number, or a name on a
headstone, but as Americans, often far too young, who were guided by
a deep and abiding love for their families, for each other, and for
We can remember Jay Aubin, the pilot, who met
his wife on an aircraft carrier, and told his mother before shipping
out, "If anything happens to me, just know I'm doing what I love."
We can remember Ryan Beaupre, the former track star, running the
leadoff leg, always the first one into action, who quit his job as
an accountant and joined the Marines because he wanted to do
something more meaningful with his life.
We can remember
Brian Kennedy, the rock climber and lacrosse fanatic, who told his
father two days before his helicopter went down that the Marines he
served alongside were some of the best men he'd ever dealt with, and
they'd be his friends forever.
We can remember Kendall
Waters-Bey, a proud father, a proud son of Baltimore, who was
described by a fellow servicemember as "a light in a very dark
And we can remember David Hickman, a freshman in high
school when the war began, a fitness fanatic who half-jokingly
called himself "Zeus," a loyal friend with an infectious laugh.
We can remember them. And we can meet our obligations to those
who did come home, and their families who are in the midst of a
different, but very real battle of their own.
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. As long as I'm President, we will make sure you and your loved
ones receive the benefits you've earned and the respect you deserve.
America will be there for you. (Applause.)
And finally, for
all of you who carry a special weight on your heart, we can strive
to be a nation worthy of your sacrifice. A nation that is fair and
equal, peaceful and free. A nation that weighs the cost of every
human life. A nation where all of us meet our obligations to one
another, and to this country that we love. That's what we can do.
As President, I have no higher honor and no greater
responsibility than serving as Commander-in-Chief of the greatest
military the world has ever known. (Applause.) And on days like
this, I take pride in the fact that this country has always been
home to men and women willing to give of themselves until they had
nothing more to give. I take heart in the strength and resolve of
those who still serve, both here at home and around the world. And I
know that we must always strive to be worthy of your sacrifice.
God bless you. God bless the fallen. God bless our men and women
in uniform. And may God bless the United States of America.