WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2010 — Vice President Joe Biden honored servicemembers and veterans at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery today, saying 100 percent of Americans owe their gratitude to the 1 percent who serve in the all-volunteer force.
“Collectively, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who served and sacrificed for us are the heart and soul, the very spine of this nation,” Biden said to an audience full of servicmembers, veterans, and government leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
“As a nation, we pause today to thank more than 23 million surviving veterans who so bravely protected our freedom,” he said. “You gave, and they gave… .millions of you gave service, limb, and sometimes life. In doing so, you imparted responsibility on all of us, as well, to recognize, respect and honor, and to care for those who risked their lives so that we can live ours.”
Biden, whose son, Beau, served in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard, noted that the U.S. military is in its longest-ever period of sustained combat from nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of two million who served in those conflicts, more than half have returned to civilian life, more than 40,000 have been wounded – with 18,000 unable to return to duty – and more than 5,700 were killed. More than 16,000 will need medical care for the rest of their lives, he said.
“Only 1 percent of this nation is fighting these wars,” Biden said. “But 100 percent of America owes them a thank you; 100 percent of the nation can, and must, do something to acknowledge what they’ve done for us and continue to do this very moment for us.”
Biden noted the chilly November temperatures at Arlington, and recalled being there on Memorial Day when the late May temperatures hit 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Those temperatures are nothing compared to the heat World War II veterans endured in the Pacific islands, or that Vietnam veterans felt in the Mekong Delta, or Iraq veterans coped with in Fallujah when the thermometer soared to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.
And the chill in the air today is nothing like the minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit that veterans remember from Korea, or the frozen Argonne Forest in France, or the snow-covered mountains of Afghanistan, he said.
Biden said he’s seen firsthand how 10th Mountain Division soldiers scale Afghanistan’s snowy mountains with 60 pounds on their backs to fight al Qaida.
“It absolutely blows me away to see what these kids – and they’re not kids – what these young men and women continue to do,” he said.
“I look out at all of you who served our nation, and all you who stood by and waited while they served, and I see the most tested among us, the most tested of all Americans, and the most honorable of men and women — citizens who never feared the future and who are determined to build a better future today,” the vice president said.
Biden said the thing he is asked most of the wounded warriors he visits is if he can help them return to their unit.
“They’re sending us a message,” he said, “but they’re also sending the enemy a message that our resolve in the face of the new threats we confront will never, ever waiver because we have so many brave young men and women of this generation. As the president has said, our spirit is strong and it cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” The strength and resolve of servicemembers, veterans and their families must be matched by the nation’s support, Biden said. He added that the Obama administration and Congress “are making historic investments in a bipartisan way” to returning veterans through increased VA benefits.
The nation now and in the future must give veterans “every bit of the care they’ve earned and deserve,” he said. “It’s the only truly sacred obligation we have as a government.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)