President Obama commemorated Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia Monday, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and delivering remarks in the annual remembrance ceremony at Memorial Amphitheater.
Standing before First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, congressional leaders, active service members, veterans and their families, the president hailed the holiday as one of “solemn remembrance,” and pledged to honor the “debt we can never fully repay.”
“In the life of our nation, across every generation, there are those who stand apart,” said Obama. “They step up, they raise their hands, they take that oath, they put on the uniform, and they put their lives on the line. They do this so that the rest of us might live in a country and a world that is safer, freer and more just. That is the gift they’ve given us. This is the debt that we owe them.”
Obama paid special tribute to those who served in the Korean War, the end of which marked its 60th anniversary this year. He also recognized the post 9-11 generation of service members, who continue to fight in the twilight of the war in Afghanistan.
“By this time next year, the transition to Afghan-led security forces will be nearly complete,” said Obama. “The longest war in American history will end.”
The president outlined how his administration plans to serve those who served the country, through bolstering health insurance, the G.I. bill, education and job opportunities, and disability protection. He also promised to continue work on tackling the VA backlog, which has caused a massive delay in delivering benefits to veterans.
One of the most special moments in Obama’s address came when he honored the nation’s oldest World War II veteran, Richard Overton, who at 107 years old, can still stand to receive applause.
“Today, our message to all those who have ever worn the uniform of this nation is this,” said Obama. “We will stand by your side, whether you’re seven days out or, like Richard, you’re 70 years out. Because here in America, we take care of our own.”
He later tweeted this photograph:
Two hundred and thirty miles north, thousands marched in New York City’s Veterans Day Parade, the largest event in the nation honoring those who’ve served. Renamed “America’s Parade,” the annual commemoration this year focused on women in service, with the U.S. military’s first female four-star general, Ann E. Dunwoody, as grand marshal.
In Washington D.C., dozens gathered at the World War II Memorial for a ceremony revealing the new World War II Medal of Honor Forever Stamp. The stamp features the images of the twelve remaining recipients who were alive when the U.S. Postal Service began work on the project. Four recipients, including the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, have since passed away. The Hawaii senator’s widow, Irene Hirano Inouye, told NBC News that her husband would have wanted his fellow service members who did not come home to be remembered as well.
Later in the day, a former prisoner of war, Col. Lee Ellis, will join Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to dedicate a wall at Enid’s Woodring Regional Airport commemorating Vietnam veterans. U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war alongside Ellis, will also be participating in a Veterans Day event in Arizona, where he and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton will speak to the problem of homelessness within the Valley’s veteran community.