Political Headlines May 27, 2013: President Barack Obama Honors Fallen Troops at Arlington National Cemetary — Looks to the War’s End on Memorial Day

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Honors Fallen Troops, Looks to the War’s End on Memorial Day

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-27-13

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

In a solemn ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, President Obama today called on Americans to never forget the sacrifice of soldiers who served in harm’s way and died for their fellow countrymen.

“America stands at a crossroads, but even as we turn a page on a decade of conflict, even as we look forward, let us never forget as we gather here today that our nation is still at war,” Obama said….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency May 27, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech Commemorating Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Delivers Memorial Day Remarks at Arlington National Cemetery

Source: WH, 5-27-13 

Today President Obama traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Memorial Day, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and delivering remarks.

The President thanked members of the armed forces and veterans for their service to the United States, and paid tribute to our fallen heroes laid to rest at Arlington

President Barack Obama participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying (5/27/13)President Barack Obama participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., May 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

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Watch the President’s full remarks

Remarks by the President Commemorating Memorial Day

Source: WH, 5-27-13 

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

11:31 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Please be seated.  Thank you very much.  Good morning, everybody.  I want to thank Secretary Chuck Hagel, not only for the introduction but, Chuck, for your lifetime of service — from sergeant in the Army to Secretary of Defense, but always a man who carries with you the memory of friends and fallen heroes from Vietnam.  We’re grateful to you.

I want to thank General Dempsey, Major General Linnington, Kathryn Condon, who has served Arlington with extraordinary  dedication and grace and who will be leaving us, but we are so grateful for the work that she’s done; for Chaplain Brainerd, Secretary Shinseki, all our guests.  And most of all, to members of our armed services and our veterans; to the families and friends of the fallen who we honor today; to Americans from all across the country who have come to pay your respects:  I have to say it is always a great honor to spend this Memorial Day with you at this sacred place where we honor our fallen heroes — those who we remember fondly in our memories, and those known only to God.

Beyond these quiet hills, across that special bridge, is a city of monuments dedicated to visionary leaders and singular moments in the life of our Republic.  But it is here, on this hallowed ground, where we choose to build a monument to a constant thread in the American character — the truth that our nation endures because it has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all, and lay down their very lives, to preserve and protect this land that we love.

That character — that selflessness — beats in the hearts of the very first patriots who died for a democracy they had never known and would never see.  It lived on in the men and women who fought to hold our union together, and in those who fought to defend it abroad — from the beaches of Europe to the mountains and jungles of Asia.  This year, as we mark the 60th anniversary of the end of fighting in Korea, we offer a special salute to all those who served and gave their lives in the Korean War.  And over the last decade, we’ve seen the character of our country again — in the nearly 7,000 Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice on battlefields and city streets half a world away.

Last Memorial Day, I stood here and spoke about how, for the first time in nine years, Americans were no longer fighting and dying in Iraq.  Today, a transition is underway in Afghanistan, and our troops are coming home.  Fewer Americans are making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and that’s progress for which we are profoundly grateful.  And this time next year, we will mark the final Memorial Day of our war in Afghanistan.

And so, as I said last week, America stands at a crossroads.  But even as we turn the page on a decade of conflict, even as we look forward, let us never forget, as we gather here today, that our nation is still at war.

It should be self-evident.  And in generations past, it was.  And during World War II, millions of Americans contributed to the war effort — soldiers like my own grandfather; women like my grandmother, who worked the assembly lines.  During the Vietnam War, just about everybody knew somebody — a brother, a son, a friend — who served in harm’s way.

Today, it’s different.  Perhaps it’s a tribute to our remarkable all-volunteer force, made up of men and women who step forward to serve and do so with extraordinary skill and valor.  Perhaps it’s a testament to our advanced technologies, which allow smaller numbers of troops to wield greater and greater power.  But regardless of the reason, this truth cannot be ignored that today most Americans are not directly touched by war.

As a consequence, not all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depth of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made in our name — right now, as we speak, every day.  Our troops and our military families understand this, and they mention to me their concern about whether the country fully appreciates what’s happening.  I think about a letter I received from a Naval officer, a reservist who had just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.  And he wrote me, “I’m concerned that our work in Afghanistan is fading from memory.”  And he went on to ask that we do more to keep this conflict “alive and focused in the hearts and minds of our own people.”

And he’s right.  As we gather here today, at this very moment, more than 60,000 of our fellow Americans still serve far from home in Afghanistan.  They’re still going out on patrol, still living in spartan forward operating bases, still risking their lives to carry out their mission.  And when they give their lives, they are still being laid to rest in cemeteries in the quiet corners across our country, including here in Arlington.

Captain Sara Cullen had a smile that could light up a room and a love of country that led her to West Point.  And after graduation, Sara became a Black Hawk pilot — and married a former Black Hawk pilot.  She was just 27 years old when she and four other soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash during a training mission near Kandahar.  This past April, Sara was laid to rest here, in Section 60.  Today, Sara is remembered by her mother, Lynn, who says she is “proud of her daughter’s life, proud of her faith and proud of her service to our country.”  (Applause.)

Staff Sergeant Frankie Phillips came from a military family and was as tough as they come.  A combat medic, Frankie was on patrol in Afghanistan three weeks ago when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.  He was so humble that his parents never knew how many lives he had saved until soldiers started showing up at his funeral from thousands of miles away.  And last week, Frankie was laid to rest just a few rows over from Sara.

Staff Sergeant Eric Christian was a born leader.  A member of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command, Eric had served five tours of duty, but kept going back because he felt responsible for his teammates and was determined to finish the mission.  On May 4th, Eric gave his life after escorting a high-ranking U.S. official to meet with Afghan leaders.  Later, his family got a letter from a Marine who had served two tours with Eric.  In it, the Marine wrote, “There were people who measured their success based on how many enemies they killed or how many missions they led to conquer a foe.  Eric based his success on how many of his friends he brought home, and he brought home many — including me.”  Eric was laid to rest here at Arlington, just six days ago.  (Applause.)

So today, we remember their service.  Today, just steps from where these brave Americans lie in eternal peace, we declare, as a proud and grateful nation, that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.  And just as we honor them, we hold their families close.  Because for the parents who lose a child; for the husbands and wives who lose a partner; for the children who lose a parent, every loss is devastating.  And for those of us who bear the solemn responsibility of sending these men and women into harm’s way, we know the consequences all too well.  I feel it every time I meet a wounded warrior, every time I visit Walter Reed, and every time I grieve with a Gold Star family.

And that’s why, on this day, we remember our sacred obligation to those who laid down their lives so we could live ours:  to finish the job these men and women started by keeping our promise to those who wear America’s uniform — to give our troops the resources they need; to keep faith with our veterans and their families, now and always; to never stop searching for those who have gone missing or who are held as prisoners of war.

But on a more basic level, every American can do something even simpler.  As we go about our daily lives, we must remember that our countrymen are still serving, still fighting, still putting their lives on the line for all of us.

Last fall, I received a letter from Candie Averette, of Charlotte, North Carolina.  Both of her sons are Marines.  Her oldest served two tours in Iraq.  Her youngest was in Afghanistan at the time.  He was, in her words, “100 percent devoted to his deployment and wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Reading Candie’s letter, it was clear she was extraordinarily proud of the life her boys had chosen.  But she also had a request on behalf of all the mothers just like her.  She said, “Please don’t forget about my child and every other Marine and soldier over there who proudly choose to defend their country.”

A mother’s plea — please don’t forget.  On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us be true and meet that promise.  Let it be our task, every single one of us, to honor the strength and the resolve and the love these brave Americans felt for each other and for our country.  Let us never forget to always remember and to be worthy of the sacrifice they make in our name.

May God bless the fallen and all those who serve.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:44 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 25, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Paying Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Paying Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-25-13

The White House

In a Memorial Day themed weekly address, President Obama celebrates U.S. troops and paid tribute to those who died while serving in the military….READ MORE

Weekly Address: Giving Thanks to Our Fallen Heroes this Memorial Day 

Source: WH, 5-25-13

In this week’s address, President Obama commemorates Memorial Day by paying tribute to the men and women in uniform who have given their lives in service to our country.

Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

 Weekly Address: Giving Thanks to Our Fallen Heroes this Memorial Day

Weekly Address: Giving Thanks to Our Fallen Heroes this Memorial Day

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
May 25, 2013
Source: WH, 5-25-13

Hi, everybody.   This week, I’ve been speaking about America’s national security – our past, our present, and our future.

On Thursday, I outlined the future of our fight against terrorism – the threats we face, and the way in which we will meet them.

On Friday, I went to Annapolis to celebrate the extraordinary young men and women of the United States Naval Academy’s Class of 2013 – the sailors and Marines who will not only lead that fight, but who will lead our country for decades to come.

And on Monday, we celebrate Memorial Day.  Unofficially, it’s the start of summer – a chance for us to spend some time with family and friends, at barbecues or the beach, getting a little fun and relaxation in before heading back to work.

It’s also a day on which we set aside some time, on our own or with our families, to honor and remember all the men and women who have given their lives in service to this country we love.

They are heroes, each and every one.  They gave America the most precious thing they had – “the last full measure of devotion.”  And because they did, we are who we are today – a free and prosperous nation, the greatest in the world.

At a time when only about one percent of the American people bear the burden of our defense, the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform isn’t always readily apparent.  That’s partly because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coast guardsmen are so skilled at what they do.  It’s also because those who serve tend to do so quietly.  They don’t seek the limelight.  They don’t serve for our admiration, or even our gratitude.  They risk their lives, and many give their lives, for something larger than themselves or any of us:  the ideals of liberty and justice that make America a beacon of hope for the world.

That’s been true throughout our history – from our earliest days, when a tiny band of revolutionaries stood up to an Empire, to our 9/11 Generation, which continues to serve and sacrifice today.

Every time a threat has risen, Americans have risen to meet it.  And because of that courage – that willingness to fight, and even die – America endures.

That is the purpose of Memorial Day.  To remember with gratitude the countless men and women who gave their lives so we could know peace and live in freedom.

And we must do more than remember.

We must care for the loved ones that our fallen service members have left behind.

We must make sure all our veterans have the care and benefits they’ve earned, and the jobs and opportunity they deserve.

We must be there for the military families whose loved ones are in harm’s way – for they serve as well.

And above all, we must make sure that the men and women of our armed forces have the support they need to achieve their missions safely at home and abroad.

The young men and women I met at the Naval Academy this week know the meaning of service.  They’ve studied the heroes of our history.  They’ve chosen to follow in their footsteps – to stand their watch, man a ship, lead a platoon.  They are doing their part.  And each of us must do ours.

So this weekend, as we commemorate Memorial Day, I ask you to hold all our fallen heroes in your hearts.

And every day, let us work together to preserve what their sacrifices achieved – to make our country even stronger, even more fair, even more free.  That is our mission.  It is our obligation.  And it is our privilege, as the heirs of those who came before us, and as citizens of the United States of America.

Thank you.

Full Text Obama Presidency May 28, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Commemoration Ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY
& THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Obama Recalls Vietnam Vets’ Treatment as ‘National Shame’

Source: ABC News Radio 5-28-12

The White House/Pete Souza

In his second address this Memorial Day, President Obama paid specific tribute to those perished during the Vietnam War on the 50th anniversary of its beginning.  He recalled the sacrifice of the troops who served there and the unjust blame that was heaped on them upon their return.

“It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened.  That’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again,” Obama told vets and their families gathered at the Vietnam War Memorial on the national mall Monday.  “You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor.”

The 50th anniversary, Obama argued, is another chance to set the record straight and “tell your story as it should have been told all along.”

“That’s one more way we keep perfecting our union, setting the record straight.  And it starts today.  Because history will honor your service,” he said.  “And even though some Americans turned their back on you, you never turned your back on America.”…READ MORE

President Obama Celebrates U.S. Troops on Memorial Day

Source: WH, 5-28-12

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall (May 28, 2012)

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are joined at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall by Rose Marie Sabo-Brown, the widow of Medal of Honor recipient Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., U.S. Army, during the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemoration ceremony in Washington, D.C., May 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This afternoon, he visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that conflict and to celebrate those who served:

[We] come to this wall — to this sacred place — to remember. We can step towards its granite wall and reach out, touch a name.  Today is Memorial Day, when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of spring. And today begins the 50th commemoration of our war in Vietnam. We honor each of those names etched in stone — 58,282 American patriots. We salute all who served with them. And we stand with the families who love them still.

At both events, the President noted another reason for celebration — for the first time in nine years, there are no U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.

POLITICAL QUOTES
& SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at the Commemoration Ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War Memorial
National Mall
Washington, D.C.

2:27 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Chuck, thank you for your words and your friendship and your life of service.  Veterans of the Vietnam War, families, friends, distinguished guests.  I know it is hot.  (Laughter.)  But you are here — to honor your loved ones.  And Michelle and I could not be more honored to be here with you.

It speaks to the complexity of America’s time in Vietnam that, even now, historians cannot agree on precisely when the war began.  American advisors had served there, and died there, as early as the mid-’50s.  Major combat operations would not begin until the mid-’60s.  But if any year in between illustrated the changing nature of our involvement, it was 1962.

It was January, in Saigon.  Our Army pilots strapped on their helmets and boarded their helicopters.  They lifted off, raced over treetops carrying South Vietnamese troops.  It was a single raid against an enemy stronghold just a few miles into the jungle — but it was one of America’s first major operations in that faraway land.

Fifty years later, we come to this wall — to this sacred place — to remember.  We can step towards its granite wall and reach out, touch a name.  Today is Memorial Day, when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of spring.  And today begins the 50th commemoration of our war in Vietnam.  We honor each of those names etched in stone — 58,282 American patriots.  We salute all who served with them.  And we stand with the families who love them still.

For years you’ve come here, to be with them once more.  And in the simple things you’ve left behind — your offerings, your mementos, your gifts — we get a glimpse of the lives they led.  The blanket that covered him as a baby.  The baseball bat he swung as a boy.  A wedding ring.  The photo of the grandchild he never met.  The boots he wore, still caked in mud.  The medals she earned, still shining.  And, of course, some of the things left here have special meaning, known only to the veterans — a can of beer; a packet of M&Ms; a container of Spam; an old field ration — still good, still awful.  (Laughter.)

It’s here we feel the depth of your sacrifice.  And here we see a piece of our larger American story.  Our Founders — in their genius — gave us a task.  They set out to make a more perfect union.  And so it falls to every generation to carry on that work.  To keep moving forward.  To overcome a sometimes painful past.  To keep striving for our ideals.

And one of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam — most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there.  You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor.  (Applause.)  You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised.  You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated.  It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened.  And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.  (Applause.)

And so a central part of this 50th anniversary will be to tell your story as it should have been told all along.  It’s another chance to set the record straight.  That’s one more way we keep perfecting our Union — setting the record straight.  And it starts today.  Because history will honor your service, and your names will join a story of service that stretches back two centuries.

Let us tell the story of a generation of servicemembers — every color, every creed, rich, poor, officer and enlisted — who served with just as much patriotism and honor as any before you. Let’s never forget that most of those who served in Vietnam did so by choice.  So many of you volunteered.  Your country was at war, and you said, “send me.”  That includes our women in Vietnam — every one of you a volunteer.  (Applause.)  Those who were drafted, they, too, went and carried their burden — you served; you did your duty.

You persevered though some of the most brutal conditions ever faced by Americans in war.  The suffocating heat.  The drenching monsoon rains.  An enemy that could come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly.  Some of the most intense urban combat in history, and battles for a single hill that could rage for weeks.  Let it be said — in those hellholes like Briarpatch, and the Zoo and the Hanoi Hilton — our Vietnam POWs didn’t simply endure; you wrote one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history.  (Applause.)

As a nation, we’ve long celebrated the courage of our forces at Normandy and Iwo Jima, the Pusan Perimeter and Heartbreak Ridge.  So let us also speak of your courage — at Hue and Khe Sanh, at Tan Son Nhut and Saigon, from Hamburger Hill to Rolling Thunder.  All too often it’s forgotten that you, our troops in Vietnam, won every major battle you fought in.  (Applause.)

When you came home, I know many of you put your medals away — tucked them in a drawer, or in a box in the closet.  You went on with your lives — started families and pursued careers.  A lot of you didn’t talk too much about your service.  As a consequence, this nation has not always fully appreciated the chapter of your lives that came next.

So let us also tell a story of a generation that came home, and how — even though some Americans turned their back on you — you never turned your back on America.  (Applause.)  Like generations before you, you took off the uniform, but you never stopped serving.  You became teachers and police officers and nurses — the folks we count on every single day.  You became entrepreneurs, running companies and pioneering industries that changed the world.  You became leaders and public servants, from town halls to Capitol Hill — lifting up our communities, our states, our nation.

You reminded us what it was like to serve, what it meant to serve.  Those of you who stayed in uniform, you rose through the ranks, became leaders in every service, learned from your experience in Vietnam and rebuilt our military into the finest force that the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  And let’s remember all those Vietnam veterans who came back and served again — in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You did not stop serving.  (Applause.)

Even as you succeeded in all these endeavors, you did something more — maybe the most important thing you did — you looked after each other.  When your government didn’t live up to its responsibilities, you spoke out — fighting for the care and benefits you had earned, and, over time, transforming the VA.  And, of course, one of these Vietnam veterans is now our outstanding Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Ric Shinseki.  (Applause.)

You looked after one another.  You cared for one another.  People weren’t always talking about PTSD at the time — you understood it, and you were there for each other.  Just as importantly, you didn’t just take care of your own, you cared for those that followed.  You’ve made it your mission to make sure today’s troops get the respect and support that all too often you did not receive.  (Applause.)

Because of you, because our Vietnam veterans led the charge, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is helping hundreds of thousands of today’s veterans go to college and pursue their dreams.  (Applause.)  Because of you, because you didn’t let us forget, at our airports, our returning troops get off the airplane and you are there to shake their hands.  (Applause.)  Because of you, across America, communities have welcomed home our forces from Iraq.  And when our troops return from Afghanistan, America will give this entire 9/11 Generation the welcome home they deserve.  That happened in part because of you.  (Applause.)

This is the story of our Vietnam servicemembers — the story that needs to be told.  This is what this 50th anniversary is all about.  It’s another opportunity to say to our Vietnam veterans what we should have been saying from the beginning:  You did your job.  You served with honor.  You made us proud.  You came home and you helped build the America that we love and that we cherish.

So here today, it must be said — you have earned your place among the greatest generations.  At this time, I would ask all our Vietnam veterans, those of you who can stand, to please stand, all those already standing, raise your hands — as we say those simple words which always greet our troops when they come home from here on out:  Welcome home.  (Applause.)  Welcome home. Welcome home.  Welcome home.  Thank you.  We appreciate you.  Welcome home.  (Applause.)

Today, we’re calling on all Americans, and every segment of our society, to join this effort.  Everybody can do something.  Five decades removed from a time of division among Americans, this anniversary can remind us of what we share as Americans.  That includes honoring our Vietnam veterans by never forgetting the lessons of that war.

So let us resolve that when America sends our sons and daughters into harm’s way, we will always give them a clear mission; we will always give them a sound strategy; we will give them the equipment they need to get the job done.  We will have their backs.  (Applause.)  We will resolve that leaders will be candid about the risks and about progress — and have a plan to bring our troops home, with honor.

Let us resolve to never forget the costs of war, including the terrible loss of innocent civilians — not just in Vietnam, but in all wars.  For we know that while your sacrifice and service is the very definition of glory, war itself is not glorious.  We hate war.  When we fight, we do so to protect ourselves because it’s necessary.

Let’s resolve that in our democracy we can debate and disagree — even in a time of war.  But let us never use patriotism as a political sword.  Patriots can support a war; patriots can oppose a war.  And whatever our view, let us always stand united in support of our troops, who we placed in harm’s way.  (Applause.)  That is our solemn obligation.  (Applause.)

Let’s resolve to take care of our veterans as well as they’ve taken care of us — not just talk, but actions.  Not just in the first five years after a war, but the first five decades. For our Vietnam veterans, this means the disability benefits for diseases connected to Agent Orange.  It means job opportunities and mental health care to help you stand tall again.  It means ending the tragedy of veterans’ homelessness, so that every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America.  You shouldn’t have to fight for a roof over your heads when you fought on behalf of the country that you love.  (Applause.)

And when an American does not come back — including the 1,666 Americans still missing from the Vietnam War — let us resolve to do everything in our power to bring them home.  This is our solemn promise to mothers like Sarah Shay who joins us today, 93 years old, who has honored her son, Major Donald Shay, Jr., missing in action for 42 years.  There she is.  Sarah, thank you for your courage.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

This is the promise we’re fulfilling today to the Meroney family of Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Forty-three years after he went missing, we can announce that Army Captain Virgil Meroney, III, is coming home, and he will finally rest in peace.  (Applause.)

Some have called this war era a scar on our country, but here’s what I say.  As any wound heals, the tissue around it becomes tougher, becomes stronger than before.  And in this sense, finally, we might begin to see the true legacy of Vietnam. Because of Vietnam and our veterans, we now use American power smarter, we honor our military more, we take care of our veterans better.  Because of the hard lessons of Vietnam, because of you, America is even stronger than before.  (Applause.)

And finally, on this anniversary and all the years to come, let us remember what binds us, as one people.  This is important for all of us, whether you fought in the Vietnam War or fought against it, whether you were too young to be shaped by it.  It is important that our children understand the sacrifices that were made by your troops in Vietnam; that for them, this is more than just a name in history books.  It’s important that we know the lesson of a gift once left at this Memorial.

It was towards the end of the day, and most of the tourists and visitors had departed.  And there it was — a football helmet, black with white stripes, and a wristband.  And with them was a handwritten note.  And it was from a young man, still in high school.  And mind you, this was more than two decades after Vietnam.  That high school student was born years after the war had already ended.  But in that short, handwritten note he captured the reverence — the bonds between generations — that bring us here today.

The letter began, “Dear Vietnam Veterans, here are two things from me to you that I think you should have.”   He explained that it was his helmet from midget football and his wristband from his senior year.  So today I want to close with the words he wrote:

In these two pieces of equipment, I was allowed to make mistakes, correct them, grow and mature as a person.  However, that was on my battlefield.  You didn’t get the chance to do that on your battlefield.  Some of you were forced to grow up too fast; all of you died too soon.  We do have many things in common, though.  We both have pride, heart and determination.  I’m just sorry you guys had to learn those qualities too fast.  That is why I’m giving you what I grew up with.  You are true heroes and you will never be forgotten.

That’s from a high school kid, born decades after the end of the war.  And that captures the spirit that this entire country should embrace.

Veterans, families of the Vietnam War, I know the wounds of war are slow to heal.  You know that better than most.  But today we take another step.  The task of telling your story continues. The work of perfecting our Union goes on.  And decades from now, I hope another young American will visit this place and reach out and touch a name.  And she’ll learn the story of servicemembers  — people she never met, who fought a war she never knew — and in that moment of understanding and of gratitude and of grace, your legacy will endure.  For you are all true heroes and you will all be remembered.

May God bless you.  May God bless your families.  May God bless our men and women in uniform.  And may God bless these United States of America.  (Applause.)

END                   2:50 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 28, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech Honors & Celebrates US Troops on Memorial Day — Recalls Fallen Soldiers, Winding Down of Iraq, Afghanistan Wars

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Obama on Memorial Day Recalls the Fallen, Winding Down of Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-28-12

Under bright, hazy skies at Arlington National Cemetery, President Obama spent his fourth Memorial Day as commander in chief honoring the hundreds of thousands of  soldiers who died serving their country, particularly in the Vietnam War, which began more than 50 years ago.

“From the jungles of Vietnam to the mountains of Afghanistan, they stepped forward and answered the call,” Obama told hundreds gathered in the humid, midday heat at the cemetery, which is across the Potomac River from the capital.

“They fought for a home they might never return to; they fought for buddies they’ll never forget. 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.”

Heeding to custom, Obama also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, pausing to reflect and pray as a lone bugler played taps….READ MORE

President Obama Celebrates U.S. Troops on Memorial Day

Source: WH, 5-28-12

President Obama participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery (May 28, 2012)
President Barack Obama, with Major General Michael Linnington, Commanding General Military District of Washington, participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, May 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama earlier marked Memorial Day with two separate events.

This morning, he visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and highlighted the connection shared by each of the heroes who rest at the site:

These 600 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.

POLITICAL QUOTES
& SPEECHES

Remarks by the President Commemorating Memorial Day

Memorial Amphitheater
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

11:39 A.M. EDT

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.

These 600 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 headstone.

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.

Eight years, 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.

To the 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 strength?

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 this country.

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 world.”

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.  (Applause.)

END
11:49 A.M. EDT

Political Buzz May 25, 2012: President Barack Obama Marks Memorial Day and Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War — Meets with Rolling Thunder

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY
& THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Obama meets with Rolling Thunder

Source: Politico, 5-25-12


(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

There were no events listed on his public schedule Friday, but President Obama apparently took time out to greet members of Rolling Thunder, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing attention to POWs and troops missing in action.

The White House put out a photo of the meeting, showing Obama meeting the group in the Diplomatic Reception Room.

The organization, which is known for motorcycle rallies on Memorial Day weekend, says on its web site that its members “are united in the cause to bring full accountability for Prisoners Of War (POW) and Missing In Action (MIA) of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: ‘We Will Not Forget.'”

FACT SHEET: Memorial Day and Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

This Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who have defended our nation, and mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. On Memorial Day, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will participate in an event at Arlington National Cemetery. The President, Vice President, First Lady and Dr. Biden will also attend an event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Prior to these events, the President and First Lady Michelle Obama will meet with Gold Star Families.  On Friday, the Vice President and Dr. Biden attended an event to honor the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.

Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War
“This month, we’ll begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a time when, to our shame, our veterans did not always receive the respect and the thanks they deserved — a mistake that must never be repeated.” – President Obama, May 16, 2012

The Memorial Day gathering at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall marks the beginning of the national commemoration of the Vietnam War’s 50th anniversary program and is a joint effort between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the National Park Service and the Department of Defense.

The Federal Government will partner with State and local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to launch the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War—a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced and pay tribute to the more than 3 million men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.  The events and activities that are a part of this commemoration will:

• Thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States and to thank and honor the families of these veterans.

• Highlight the service of the armed forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations that served with, or in support of, the armed forces.

• Pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the Vietnam War.

• Highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to the military research conducted during the Vietnam War.

• Recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.

Obama marks 50th anniversary of Vietnam War

Source: WH, 5-25-12

The president signed a proclamation on Friday marking the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War:

“In recognition of a chapter in our Nation’s history that must never be forgotten, let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam and those who awaited their safe return. Beginning on Memorial Day 2012, the Federal Government will partner with local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War — a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced. While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.”

Full proclamation after the jump:

“BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor. We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away from everything they knew and everyone they loved. From Ia Drang to Khe Sanh, from Hue to Saigon and countless villages in between, they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans. Through more than a decade of combat, over air, land, and sea, these proud Americans upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.

As a grateful Nation, we honor more than 58,000 patriots –their names etched in black granite — who sacrificed all they had and all they would ever know. We draw inspiration from the heroes who suffered unspeakably as prisoners of war, yet who returned home with their heads held high. We pledge to keep faith with those who were wounded and still carry the scars of war, seen and unseen. With more than 1,600 of our service members still among the missing, we pledge as a Nation to do everything in our power to bring these patriots home. In the reflection of The Wall, we see the military family members and veterans who carry a pain that may never fade. May they find peace in knowing their loved ones endure, not only in medals and memories, but in the hearts of all Americans, who are forever grateful for their service, valor, and sacrifice.

In recognition of a chapter in our Nation’s history that must never be forgotten, let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam and those who awaited their safe return. Beginning on Memorial Day 2012, the Federal Government will partner with local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War — a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced. While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor. Let us renew our commitment to the fullest possible accounting for those who have not returned.

Throughout this Commemoration, let us strive to live up to their example by showing our Vietnam veterans, their families, and all who have served the fullest respect and support of a grateful Nation.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 28, 2012, through November 11, 2025, as the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to honor our Vietnam veterans, our fallen, our wounded, those unaccounted for, our former prisoners of war, their families, and all who served with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

– BARACK OBAMA”

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