Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a decorated Vietnam veteran, to lay wreaths at a morning commemoration in San Diego that drew a crowd of 5,000.
Although neither candidate’s schedule was labeled political, both managed to weave themes from their campaigns into their remarks, highlighting the importance of a voting group that Republicans have historically dominated. That advantage remains intact, according to a recent Gallup poll that gives Romney a commanding lead among veterans.
But that hasn’t stopped Obama from launching an aggressive effort to court veterans and their families, in which he has touted the killing of Osama bin Laden, the end of the war in Iraq and the effort to wind down combat operations in Afghanistan.
Obama has also emphasized how he has increased funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs, implemented the post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill and launched job programs for returning troops.
On Monday, Obama’s speeches honoring the nation’s war dead touched on those actions and praised veterans for their contributions. At Arlington cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns, amid solemn performances of the national anthem and “Taps,” the president recognized both the first and the final casualties of the war in Iraq, alluding to his own stewardship of a conflict that he had promised in 2008 to end. He also pledged Monday to go to war only with a “clear mission,” with the support of the nation and when “absolutely necessary.”
At the Vietnam memorial ceremony, which actor Tom Selleck presided over as master of ceremonies, Obama delivered a lengthy speech in which he addressed some of that war’s most painful legacies. He described the treatment of returning Vietnam veterans as a “national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened.”
He promised to do “everything in our power” to continue the effort to find those still missing in action and to provide the necessary benefits to disabled veterans, those afflicted by the effects of Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress syndrome, and those struggling to find jobs.
He celebrated the valor of Vietnam veterans and credited them for the nation’s appreciation of those who have served in more recent conflicts.
“Because of you, because our Vietnam veterans led the charge, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is helping hundreds of thousands of today’s veterans go to college and pursue their dreams,” Obama said. “Because of you, because you didn’t let us forget, at our airports, our returning troops get off the airplane and you are there to shake their hands. Because of you, across America, communities have welcomed home our forces from Iraq. And when our troops return from Afghanistan, America will give this entire 9/11 generation the welcome home they deserve. That happened in part because of you.”