Obama speaks at Fort Hood memorial service

Mourners at a memorial service at Fort Hood remember the victims of a mass shooting that left 13 dead and 37 wounded.
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009; 3:46 PM

FORT HOOD, Tex. -- President Obama told a sea of mourners Tuesday that the lives of 13 people who died at the hands of a gunman here last week affirm the nation's "core values" in a time of war and selfishness.

"In an age of selfishness, they embody responsibility," Obama said at a memorial service attended by several thousand soldiers and civilians. "In an era of division, they call upon us to come together. In a time of cynicism, they remind us of who we are as Americans."

Obama said a "twisted logic" drove the accused gunman, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, to open fire inside a Fort Hood medical facility. "No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving god looks upon them with favor."

"For what he has done," Obama said, "we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next."

In front of the dais as Obama spoke were 13 pairs of combat boots, and in front of each pair was a photo of one of the victims. Relatives of the dead walked down stone stairs, many red-eyed, some gripping one another's arms. Many wore ribbons.

Obama mentioned each one in turn, saying a word about service and the families left behind. Pfc. Michael Pearson "could create songs on the spot." Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow was "an optimist, a mentor and a loving husband and father."

"Their lives speak to the strength, the dignity, the decency of those who serve," Obama said, "and that's how they will be remembered."

For Obama, who flew to Texas on the eve of Veterans Day to pay his respects after what one mourner called a "mini-9/11," the speech was a chance to convey a measure of gratitude for the military's sacrifice at a time when the country is fighting two unpopular wars on foreign soil.

In the audience on the nation's largest military base were Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and the state's two Republican senators. Also, some of the nation's senior military brass, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, who also spoke, said the biggest trait the victims had in common was their decision to volunteer to serve their country. He said it is easier to accept casualties on foreign soil, where Fort Hood has lost 545 soldiers in the Iraq and Afghan wars.

"It was a kick in the gut," Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey Jr. said. He said the responses to the shooting have been "uplifting."

Hasan, who was shot four times by civilian police, is hospitalized in custody and in stable condition.

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