At Arlington, Obama pays tribute to veterans

President Obama thanked veterans and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Veterans Day.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 1:22 PM

President Obama, marking Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery, paid tribute Wednesday to generations of American service members and pledged to "keep the promises that we've made" to all who have worn the nation's uniform.

Obama spoke after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns that was also attended by first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden and his wife, senior government officials and top military brass. Under a light drizzle, the president placed a wreath on a stand, listened as a bugler played taps and bowed his head for a minute of silence broken only by the distant sound of a train horn.

The Obamas later visited a section of the cemetery where service members killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. In their previously unannounced tour of Section 60, the president and first lady walked among the white headstones and talked to surprised mourners who were there to visit the graves of their loved ones.

In his speech following an introduction by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki at the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater, Obama said, "While it is important and proper that we mark this day, it is far more important we spend all our days determined to keep the promises that we've made to all who answer this country's call."

A day after attending a memorial service at Fort Hood, Tex., for 13 people who were slain last week at a processing center for soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama praised the current generation of U.S. service members, saying he saw in them a singular determination that merits a place for them alongside the veterans of previous generations.

"They chose to serve the cause that is greater than self, many even after they knew they would be sent into harm's way," Obama said. "So to all of them -- to our veterans, to the fallen and to their families -- there's no tribute, no commemoration, no praise that can truly match the magnitude of your service and your sacrifice."

Speaking in what he called "this sacred place," 200 acres of ground where more than 300,000 people are buried, Obama told America's veterans: "We honor your service. We are forever grateful. And just as you have not forgotten your missing comrades, neither, ever, will we."

He said, "Our servicemen and women have been doing right by America for generations, and as long as I am commander in chief, America is going to do right by them. And that is my message to all veterans today. . . . America will not let you down. We will take care of our own."

Addressing those serving on distant battlefields, Obama pledged, "When your tour ends, when you see our flag, when you touch our soil, you will be home in an America that is forever here for you, just as you've been there for us. That is my promise -- our nation's promise -- to you."

In the afternoon, Obama is scheduled to meet with his national security team in the White House Situation Room to discuss plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where resurgent Taliban movements are battling both governments.

Obama is considering four reinforcement options for Afghanistan, White House officials have said. One option, reported to be the primary recommendation of the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley a. McChrystal, calls for sending 40,000 additional U.S. troops to the rugged landlocked country.

Another would send about 34,000 U.S. troops and seek additional forces from U.S. allies to make up the difference. A third would add about 20,000 more American service members to the nearly 68,000 already in Afghanistan. The fourth option would increase the force by two or three brigades, or about 10,000 to 15,000 troops, while emphasizing greater use of drone strikes and special forces operations.

According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, 54 percent of Americans now oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan, up from 50 percent last month. At the same time, the poll shows, 48 percent of Americans now disapprove of Obama's handling of Afghanistan, up from 41 percent in October.

In a letter to Obama marking Veterans Day, 10 Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee led by John McCain (Ariz.) called on the president to "fully support" McChrystal's request for additional troops.

"We agree with General McChrystal's assessment of the security situation as 'deteriorating' and that our civilian and military leaders urgently need more resources, including more combat troops, to turn the tide toward success," the letter said. "On this Veterans Day, young Americans are fighting in Afghanistan in what General McChrystal describes as a situation headed toward defeat unless we act while we still have the opportunity to turn the tide and regain the initiative. . . . So we urge you to move now to fully support General McChrystal's call for additional resources and troops."

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