WASHINGTON—It was a pristine day Sunday at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery, row upon row of white tombstones still and stark against a rolling backdrop of glorious red and gold trees.
Crowds gathered early to attend the annual Veterans Day ceremony. Those unable to squeeze into the packed amphitheater scattered in groups, or alone around the grounds.
Attendees stood silently as President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and honored U.S. servicemen and women at the historic cemetery situated across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial.
“Each year, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause—as a nation, and as a people—to pay tribute to you. To thank you. To honor you, the heroes, over the generations, who have served this country of ours with distinction,” President Obama said.
While every Veterans Day is important, this year the president emphasized the difficulties that lie ahead for servicemen not in the field abroad, but at home.
“This is the first Veterans Day in a decade in which there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq,” Obama said. “After a decade of war, our heroes are coming home.
“Over the next few years more than a million service members will transition back to civilian life,” he said.
He reminded servicemen and their families that he had promised three years ago that when he ended the war in Iraq and brought U.S. forces back from Afghanistan, he would not forget returning servicemen. He noted the contribution of first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden—wife of Vice President Joe Biden—working with corporations to secure jobs for veterans through the Joining Forces campaign.
“Each year, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause—as a nation, and as a people—to pay tribute to you.”
—President Barack Obama
He also reaffirmed that the post-9/11 GI Bill program, which provides veterans with funding for a college education, would continue. He highlighted new disability funding for Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange and stressed that the backlog of claims for health benefits was being addressed.
“No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home,” President Obama said.
Maj. Robert Gleckler attended the ceremony with wife Beata and daughter Louisa. Both he and Beata, who works with veterans, appreciated the President’s emphasis on returning servicemen.
The president “has so many other things to do but he is using his office to emphasize veterans,” Gleckler said. He was particularly pleased the Obama had acknowledged the long and short term fixes needed.
“One of the most difficult things for vets is to know what is out there,” Gleckler said, recalling how he had felt when he left the military for a period of time some years back. “It is like stepping off a cliff.”
Kim and George Marut attended the Veterans Day ceremony for the first time, accompanied by their two young children and relative Audrey.
Kim, whose parents had both served in the military, said their journey from North Carolina to honor those who had served had been an “overwhelming and emotional” experience.
“We should take care of them—we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them,” she said.
Husband George had been “inspired,” saying it had reminded him to work to the best of his ability every day in order to honor the sacrifices of those who have served.
“I am just so grateful, to show gratitude from our family to all those who have served,” he said, acknowledging the importance of paying respects. “We’ll be back next year.”
For Ernestine Richardson, Veterans Day has a deeper meaning, having lost husband Maurice four years ago. At Arlington with Maurice’s daughter Monica and retired Col. Caroline Jones, Richardson said she appreciated the president’s words, saying that hearing them had felt personal, like a family member.
For Robyn Anderson, the president really did get up close and personal. Obama and the first lady took time to visit Section 60, where victims of the Iraq war are buried. After giving her a hug, Anderson received visits from Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill.
“It means a lot that the president and Michelle and the vice president and Jill come out here on Veterans Day, she said. “It means an awful lot, especially when you have a family member buried here.”
Anderson, as she does every Veterans Day, was visiting the grave of her son, Norman, killed in Iraq in 2005.
Both couples seemed to genuinely care, she said, noting that Biden had placed a coin on her son’s tombstone.
That “really touched me,” Anderson said, eyes tearing up.
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