Once again the sound of "Taps" spilled over the hillside above the Tomb of the Unknowns as President Barack Obama placed a wreath honoring America's veterans, here today.
The president spoke for the country in honoring veterans and service members on the 93rd anniversary of the armistice ending World War I.
Veterans Affairs Secretary retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, who introduced the president at the Memorial Amphitheatre, said no commander-in-chief has done more since President Franklin D. Roosevelt to care for and honor veterans.
On a bright and windy day, Obama took the rostrum and said the veterans of today are part of the thin line connecting American history. "Whether you fought in Salerno or Samara, Khe Sanh or the Korengal, you are part of an unbroken chain of men and women who have served this country with honor and distinction," he said. "On behalf of a proud and grateful nation, we thank you."
The president praised the newest generation of American veterans, noting that since 9/11, more than 3 million young Americans have raised their hands and become part of the armed forces. These men and women, the president said, stepped forward "knowing full well that they could be sent into harm's way. And in that time, they have served in some of the world's most dangerous places."
And they have been effective, he said, citing examples. Their service in Iraq has given the country the chance for a democratic future. "In Afghanistan, they have pushed back the Taliban and decimated al-Qaida and delivered the ultimate justice to Osama bin-Laden," he said. "In concert with our allies, they have helped end [Moammar] Gadhafi's brutal dictatorship and returned Libya to its people."
Their efforts mean the tide of war is receding, the president said. The mission in Iraq will end before the holidays, and withdrawal from Afghanistan has begun. "My fellow Americans, our troops are coming home," Obama said.
These returning troops have not finished serving, the president said. They understand the American spirit that asks every citizen to play a role.
"So on this Veterans Day, let us commit ourselves to keep making sure that our veterans receive the care and benefits that they have earned, the opportunity they defend and deserve," he said. "And above all, let us welcome them home as what they are: an integral, essential part of our American family."
Obama called on business owners to hire veterans and community leaders to invite veterans in and make use of their talents. "Organize your community to make a sustained difference in the life of a veteran because that veteran can make an incredible difference in the life of your community," the president said.
He urged veterans looking for new ways to serve America to go to www.serve.gov
, and he urged all Americans to click on www.joiningforces.gov
to find ways to support veterans and their families.
American service members have worked and fought in remote and dangerous places since 9/11, and now they are coming home, Obama continued. The country needs their service, "because after a decade of war, the nation we now need to build is our own," he said.
Just as the World War II generation came home from war to build the largest middle class on Earth, "so now will the 9/11 generation play a pivotal role in rebuilding America's opportunity and prosperity in the 21st century," he said.
This will not be easy, Obama said, and the nation must still deal with new threats. "We've got to overcome the cynical voices warning that America's best days are behind us," he said. "Because if there is anything our veterans teach us, it's that there is no threat we cannot meet, there is no challenge we cannot overcome."
America's best days are still ahead, the president said. "We are a country that does what is necessary for future generations to succeed," he said. "You, our veterans, fight so our children won't have to. We build and we invent and we learn so that we will know greater opportunity. America leads so that the next generation here and around the world will know a more hopeful life on this Earth."