President Barack Obama, in his remarks Friday at Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater, compared today’s servicemen and women to the Greatest Generation that faced the hardships of World War II.
Obama also noted the upcoming holidays would serve as a season of homecomings following the end of the war in Iraq and the anticipated withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan. Over the next five years, 1 million troops will return to civilian life.
“This generation of service members – this 9/11 Generation – has borne the burden of our security during a hard decade of sacrifice. Our servicemen and women make up less than 1 percent of Americans, but also more than 1 million military spouses and 2 million children and millions more parents and relatives – all of whom have shared the strains of deployment and sacrificed on behalf of the country that we love,” Obama said.
“Only 27 years old on average, these young men and women have shattered the false myth of their generation’s apathy, for they came of age in an era when so many institutions failed to live up to their responsibilities. But they chose to serve a cause greater than their selves. They saw their country threatened. But they signed up to confront that threat. They felt some tug, they answered some call, and they said, ‘Let’s go.’ And they’ve earned their place among the greatest of generations.”
Before the half-hour National Veterans Day Observance ceremony, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Despite the unexpectedly brisk fall morning, a crowd of about 200 gathered at the tomb to observe the Veterans Day activities. A 21-gun salute announced Obama’s arrival. He solemnly placed a wreath at the tomb as taps was played.
Standing side by side with Maj. Gen. Linnington, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, the president bowed his head in a moment of reflection.
In the amphitheater, men in period dress stood in front of the crowd marking America’s involvement in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. An estimated 5,000 people from around the country came to the ceremony.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told the crowd to “think warm” as he praised the president’s “strong, consistent, unwavering” support of veterans.
Shinseki highlighted the administration’s work toward eliminating veteran homelessness, giving more veterans access to health care and enrolling veterans in college.
“No president since FDR has done more for our nation’s veterans,” Shinseki said. “We could not ask for a stronger advocate for veterans.”
The crowd applauded when Obama said he’d instructed the federal government to hire more veterans. He received another round of applause when he talked about a private-sector initiative to put 100,000 post-9/11 veterans to work over the next few years.
The president told the story of a young boy with Down syndrome in Beaver, Pa., who volunteered to help a local veterans organization. He said everyone should follow that boy’s example.
“Because after a decade of war, the nation we now need to build is our own. And just as our Greatest Generation left a country recovering from Depression and returned home to build the largest middle class in history, so now will the 9/11 Generation play a pivotal role in rebuilding America’s opportunity and prosperity in the 21st century,” Obama said.
“We know it will be hard. We have to overcome new threats to our security and prosperity, and we’ve got to overcome the cynical voices warning that America’s best days are behind us. But 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. And the reason for that is because we are a people who defy those voices that insist otherwise. We are a country that does what is necessary for future generations to succeed.”