Obama Leads Americans in Observing Memorial Day

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., May 30, 2011 — The lessons of Memo­r­i­al Day can be summed up in a few words, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said here today: “Broth­er­hood. Sac­ri­fice. Love of coun­try.”
The pres­i­dent spoke at the Memo­r­i­al Amphithe­atre by the Tomb of the Unknowns. It is a white mar­ble paean to the sac­ri­fices of gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers.

In intro­duc­ing the pres­i­dent, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said that for too many Amer­i­cans, Memo­r­i­al Day is just a respite from work. “But we must nev­er for­get that it is, fore­most, an occa­sion to reflect, remem­ber and to hon­or the brave men and women who have fought and died for us,” he said. 

It also is a day to remem­ber the sac­ri­fices of mil­i­tary fam­i­ly mem­bers, “who in recent years have borne the brunt of repeat­ed deploy­ments, long part­ings and the fear of receiv­ing the knock on the door with the worst of all pos­si­ble news,” Gates said. 

The sec­re­tary urged all Amer­i­cans to remem­ber that ser­vice mem­bers “deserve our recog­ni­tion, our respect and our con­scious grat­i­tude. Every sol­dier, sailor, air­man, Marine and Coast Guards­man wear­ing the uni­form today enlist­ed or reen­list­ed know­ing they would serve in time of war.” 

The sec­re­tary will leave office at the end of June. “I know this will be my final oppor­tu­ni­ty to stand and speak in this hal­lowed place and pay trib­ute to the fall­en,” he said. “It is up to us to be wor­thy of their sac­ri­fice – in the deci­sions we make, the pri­or­i­ties we set, the sup­port we pro­vide to troops, vet­er­ans, and their fam­i­lies. For the rest of my life, I will keep these brave patri­ots and their loved ones in my heart and in my prayers.” 

Oba­ma spoke of the priv­i­lege it is to com­mem­o­rate Memo­r­i­al Day with thou­sands who have come to pay their respects, includ­ing ser­vice mem­bers and Gold Star families. 

“To those of you who mourn the loss of a loved one today, my heart goes out to you,” he said. “This day is about you, and the fall­en heroes that you loved. And it’s a day that has mean­ing for all Amer­i­cans, includ­ing me. It’s one of my high­est hon­ors, it is my most solemn respon­si­bil­i­ty as pres­i­dent, to serve as com­man­der-in-chief of one of the finest fight­ing forces the world has ever known.” 

The respon­si­bil­i­ty car­ries a spe­cial weight, Oba­ma said, adding that he some­times receives let­ters in response to his con­do­lence let­ters. “I received one such let­ter from an Army vet­er­an named Paul Tar­box after I vis­it­ed Arling­ton a cou­ple of years ago,” he said. “Paul saw a pho­to­graph of me walk­ing through Sec­tion 60, where the heroes who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan lay, by a head­stone mark­ing the final rest­ing place of Staff Sergeant Joe Phaneuf. 

“Joe, he told me, was a friend of his, one of the best men he’d ever known, the kind of guy who could have the entire bar­racks in laugh­ter, who was always there to lend a hand, from being a vol­un­teer coach to help­ing build a play­ground. It was a mov­ing let­ter, and Paul closed it with a few words about the hal­lowed ceme­tery where we are gath­ered here today. “He wrote, ‘The ven­er­a­ble war­riors that slum­ber there knew full well the risks that are asso­ci­at­ed with mil­i­tary ser­vice, and felt pride in defend­ing our democ­ra­cy. The true les­son of Arling­ton is that each head­stone is that of a patri­ot. Each head­stone shares a story.’ ” 

Each of them adds hon­or to what it means to be a sol­dier, sailor, air­man, Marine, and Coast Guards­man, Oba­ma said. “Each is a link in an unbro­ken chain that stretch­es back to the ear­li­est days of our repub­lic – and on this day, we memo­ri­al­ize them all.” 

The nation remem­bers the ear­li­est patri­ots who died giv­ing Amer­i­ca inde­pen­dence and those who died sav­ing the Union, the pres­i­dent said. “We memo­ri­al­ize those who gave their lives on the bat­tle­fields of our times — from Nor­mandy to Mani­la, Inchon to Khe Sanh, Bagh­dad to Hel­mand, and in jun­gles, deserts, and city streets around the world. 

“What bonds this chain togeth­er across the gen­er­a­tions, this chain of hon­or and sac­ri­fice, is not only a com­mon cause – our country’s cause – but also a spir­it cap­tured in a Book of Isa­iah, a famil­iar verse, mailed to me by the Gold Star par­ents of Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Mike McGa­han. ‘When I heard the voice of the Lord say­ing, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.’ ” 

The nation and every Amer­i­can owes a debt to these men and women that can­not be repaid. “But we can hon­or their sac­ri­fice, and we must,” he said. “We must hon­or it in our own lives by hold­ing their mem­o­ries close to our hearts, and heed­ing the exam­ple they set. And we must hon­or it as a nation by keep­ing our sacred trust with all who wear America’s uni­form, and the fam­i­lies who love them; by nev­er giv­ing up the search for those who’ve gone miss­ing under our country’s flag or are held as pris­on­ers of war; by serv­ing our patri­ots as well as they serve us — from the moment they enter the mil­i­tary, to the moment they leave it, to the moment they are laid to rest.” 

The pres­i­dent spoke about two Naval Acad­e­my room­mates who grew as close as broth­ers – Travis Man­ion and Bren­dan Looney. After grad­u­a­tion, Man­ion, a Marine, went to Iraq and Looney, a Navy SEAL, went to Korea. 

“On April 29, 2007, while fight­ing to res­cue his fel­low Marines from dan­ger, Travis was killed by a sniper,” Oba­ma said. “Bren­dan did what he had to do – he kept going. He poured him­self into his SEAL train­ing, and ded­i­cat­ed it to the friend that he missed. He mar­ried the woman he loved. And, his tour in Korea behind him, he deployed to Afghanistan. On Sep­tem­ber 21st of last year, Bren­dan gave his own life, along with eight oth­ers, in a heli­copter crash. 

“Heart­bro­ken, yet filled with pride, the Man­ions and the Looneys knew only one way to hon­or their sons’ friend­ship – they moved Travis from his ceme­tery in Penn­syl­va­nia and buried them side by side here at Arlington.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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