President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Monday morning, beginning a somber Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery.
Obama, aided by a soldier in uniform, rested the large wreath on a stand a few minutes after 11 a.m. Monday. The president adjusted the wreath, stepped back and bowed his head in silence for a few moments. Afterward, an Army bugler played taps.
Later in the morning, Obama spoke at a ceremony in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. He said that, before the next Memorial Day, more than a decade of U.S. wars are supposed to end.
“We’re in a pivotal moment. Our troops are coming home. By the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end,” Obama said to cheers from the crowd.
In his speech, Obama singled out relatives of those lost in war — from a woman who waited 63 years for her husband’s remains to be located in Korea to a group of young siblings sitting with first lady Michelle Obama.
“Your parents’ bravery lives on in you,” Obama said. “You will never walk alone. Your country will be here to help you grow up into the men and women your parents always knew you would be.”
Obama made only an oblique reference to the scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and spoke in general about the country’s solemn obligations to veterans, as well as to families of the lost.
“These Americans have done their duty. They ask nothing more than that our country does ours, for now and the decades to come,” Obama said.
Before the ceremony, a large number of people were turned away from the cemetery’s entrances by security personnel who said that the event was at capacity. Jennifer Lynch, a spokeswoman for the cemetery, said afterward that the gates had been closed only briefly to secure the area for Obama’s arrival.
“They lock it down for security purposes,” Lynch said. She said the cemetery was reopened to visitors, and remains open.