SAN DIEGO — Aboard the U.S. warship that buried Osama bin Laden’s body at sea, President Obama paid tribute to U.S. service members on Veterans Day, saying he “could not be prouder to be an American” because of their service.
“When they come home from part of the long line of those who defended our freedom, we have a sacred trust to make sure they understand how much we appreciate what they do,” Obama said before the start of the Carrier Classic college basketball game between top-ranked North Carolina and Michigan State, on a hardwood court built on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier
Wearing a brown bomber jacket, Obama, with his wife Michelle at his side, said his administration was working to provide jobs for veterans who return from Afghanistan and Iraq. Unemployment among veterans stands at 12.1 percent, well above the national average of 9 percent.
Obama noted that the crew of the USS Carl Vinson was involved in the effort to find and kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The ships crew burieed bin Laden’s body into the sea after he was killed in Pakistan in May. The ship also was the first to launch airstrikes in support of the U.S. war in Afghanistan in 2001.
The game took on a unique flavor. Both teams sported uniforms with camouflage design while playing before hundreds of Navy sailors dressed in dark uniforms and white caps. Instead of their names, the players’ jerseys had the word U.S.A. embroidered on the back.
At 15:42 in the first half, with MSU leading 7-6, the game paused during a timeout as the ship observed “evening colors,” and the U.S. flag was lowered from the deck. Spectators stood and saluted or held their hand over their heart.
The president, a bona fide hoops fan and regular pickup game player, watched the game from a courtside seat under partly cloudy skies on a cool November evening. Other dignitaries included Michigan State and NBA legend Magic Johnson, UNC and NBA star Vince Carter, actresses Pamela Anderson and Brooklyn Decker, and television personality Mario Lopez.
A flock of seagulls glided in circles above the court. Asked who would win the game, Johnson, who posed for pictures with the sailors, said: “America won the day, and the servicemen won the day.”
UNC won, 67-55.
In a pair of interviews during the game, Obama made his first remarks about the scandal at Penn State University, calling it “heartbreaking.”
Obama stopped in San Diego on his way Friday from Washington, where he ate breakfast with veterans and laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, to Honolulu, where he will launch a nine-day tour of the Asia Pacific region. He is scheduled to attend the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii over the weekend.
Earlier in the day, Obama had delivered remarks at Arlington National Cemetery, renewing his call for businesses to hire 100,000 veterans over the next several years. During his fall jobs tour, Obama has included reducing the 12.1 percent unemployment rate among veterans as one of his administration’s priorities.
Though Obama’s $447 billion American Jobs Act has been blocked by Congress, the Senate on Thursday approved a bill to help unemployed veterans.
“When our men and women sign up to become a soldier or a sailor, an airman, Marine, or Coast Guardsman, they don’t stop being a citizen,” Obama said at Arlington. “When they take off that uniform, their service to this nation doesn’t stop, either. Like so many of their predecessors, today’s veterans come home looking to continue serving America however they can. At a time when America needs all hands on deck, they have the skills and the strength to help lead the way.”