In a Memorial Day speech that saw him receive several standing ovations, President Obama thanked the troops who came home and those who didn’t and marked the first Memorial Day in 14 years in which the United States was not fighting a ground war in Afghanistan.
The President said:
For 147 years, our nation has set aside this day to pay solemn tribute to patriots who gave their last full measure of devotion for this country that we love. And while the nature of war has changed over that time, the values that drive our brave men and women in uniform remain constant: Honor, courage, selflessness. Those values lived in the hearts of everyday heroes who risked everything for us in every American war — men and women who now rest forever in these quiet fields and across our land.
They lived in the patriots who sparked a revolution, and who saved our union. They lived in the young GIs who defeated tyranny in Europe and the Pacific. And this year, we mark a historic anniversary — 70 years since our victory in World War II. More than 16 million Americans left everything they knew to fight for our freedom. More than 400,000 gave their lives. And today I ask all the family and friends of our fallen World War II heroes — spouses, children, brothers and sisters, and fellow veterans of World War II — to please stand if you can, or raise your hand, so that our country can thank you once more.
For many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful; it is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end. Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war. So on this day, we honor the sacrifice of the thousands of American servicemembers — men and women — who gave their lives since 9/11, including more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.
My fellow Americans, this hallowed ground is more than the final resting place of heroes; it is a reflection of America itself. It’s a reflection of our history — the wars we’ve waged for democracy, the peace we’ve laid to preserve it. It’s a reflection of our diversity — men and women of all backgrounds, all races and creeds and circumstances and faiths, willing to defend and die for the ideals that bind us as one nation. It’s a reflection of our character, seen not only in those who are buried here, but also in the caretakers who watch over them and preserve this sacred place; and in the Sentinels of the 3rd Infantry Regiment who dutifully, unfailingly watch over those patriots known only to God, but never forgotten. Today, a grateful nation thanks them as well.
Most Americans don’t fully see, don’t fully understand the sacrifice made by the one percent who serve in this all-volunteer armed forces — a sacrifice that preserves the freedoms we too often take for granted. Few know what it’s like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you. But our Gold Star families, our military families, our veterans — they know this, intimately.
These sons and daughters, these brothers and sisters who lay down their lives for us — they belong to us all. They’re our children, too. We benefit from their light, their positive influence on the world. And it’s our duty, our eternal obligation, to be there for them, too; to make sure our troops always have what they need to carry out the mission; to make sure we care for all those who have served; to make sure we honor all those whom we’ve lost; to make sure we keep faith with our military families; to make sure we never stop searching for those who are missing, or trying to bring home our prisoners of war. And we are grateful for the families of our POW/MIAs.
This may be the first Memorial Day since the end of our war in Afghanistan. But we are acutely aware, as we speak, our men and women in uniform still stand watch and still serve, and still sacrifice around the world.
Several years ago, we had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 10,000 troops remain on a mission to train and assist Afghan forces. We’ll continue to bring them home and reduce our forces further, down to an embassy presence by the end of next year. But Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place. And as so many families know, our troops continue to risk their lives for us.
The Americans who rest beneath these beautiful hills, and in sacred ground across our country and around the world, they are why our nation endures. Each simple stone marker, arranged in perfect military precision, signifies the cost of our blessings. It is a debt we can never fully repay, but it is a debt we will never stop trying to fully repay. By remaining a nation worthy of their sacrifice. By living our own lives the way the fallen lived theirs — a testament that “Greater love has no other than this, than to lay down your life for your friends.”
We are so grateful for them. We are so grateful for the families of our fallen. May God bless our fallen heroes and their families, and all who serve. And may He continue to bless the United States of America.
According to the pool reporter on the scene, the President received several standing ovations for thanking the troops for their service. The 2015 Memorial Day speech was the first in nearly a generation that felt like a thank you to all of those who have sacrificed for their country. There was no mention of current conflicts and winning wars. For the first time since American troops went to Afghanistan, it felt like a real thank you and remembrance of the lives lost.
There are still American troops in Afghanistan. The war is not over for them, but we should all pray that they may come home to be thanked on Veterans Day instead of being remembered on Memorial Day.
Mr. Easley is the founder/managing editor and Senior White House and Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association