WASHINGTON—On Memorial Day, President Obama warned Americans not to forget those still fighting even as he reiterated that the United States is nearing the end of a decade of war.
“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,” he said.
Speaking at Arlington Cemetery, Obama recalled that he had spoken of the final withdrawal of troops from Iraq at last year's Memorial Day. “This time next year, we will mark the final Memorial Day of our war in Afghanistan.“
“Fewer Americans are making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and that’s progress for which we are profoundly grateful,” he said.
In a landmark speech on counter terrorism delivered May 23, Obama said America must end the state of perpetual war and address the changing nature of terrorism.
Those changes determined that most Americans today are “not directly touched” by conflict as they were in the past,” he said at Arlington.
“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.”
He noted that 60,000 U.S. servicemen and women are in Afghanistan, "still risking their lives to carry out their mission."
Service members had expressed concern to him that the public was becoming complacent as the troops come home. In a poignant reminder, he spoke of three servicemen who had been recently interred at Arlington Cemetery.
“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,” he said.
Obama also acknowledged the families of the fallen: “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,” he said.
Gold Star father Gene DeLozier was heartened to be in Washington among the many thousands honoring America’s war dead on Memorial Day.
“It is very humbling, so many people actually honor and give tribute to our fallen heroes,” he said of the thousands of people in Washington to pay their respects. “I wouldn’t trade it in for anything in the world - except for my son back."
His father served during the Korean War, and Delozier was stationed in Korea in the 1980s. He spoke at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, near the Lincoln Memorial.
He was not impressed with Obama's call for an end to “perpetual war.”
“None of it makes any sense to me, we get in these wars and then we leave before they are over,” he said.
“After losing a son I just want to know what we lost him for,” he continued.
Vietnam veterans John Brancaccio and his brother Barry were part of a group of veterans gathered in a side street off Constitution Ave. They said they were glad to see the war end.
“We should be out of there right now," John Brancaccio said of Afghanistan. "It has gone on too long, we lose too many guys and a lot of it is to unexploded devices."
He was deployed three times to Vietnam. Barry Brancaccio helped with evacuations during the fall of Saigon.
Like many veterans, John Brancaccio said he does not want to talk about combat.
“I don’t like talking about anything ... I did what I had to do to survive,” he said.
He has never been back to Vietnam, and it took him ten years after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Wall, was built to meet with other veterans. “It was pretty traumatic.”
Now it is different. The atmosphere on Memorial and Veterans Day was one of camaraderie and healing for veterans including those from later wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
"We support them all, we don’t care where they have been or what they have done," he said.
Tom Olson, a teacher and football coach. came from Nebraska for Memorial Day. He said he is from a military family and wanted to pay his respects.
I am sorry, I am a huge American. I get very emotional when I think about the price that was paid by American soldiers," he said.