On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 2011, President Obama visited the nation’s most hallowed ground, Arlington National Cemetery, where the remains of America’s war dead are laid to rest.
On this sunny, windy and cool Veterans Day, Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. His hand covered his heart as a drummer sounded a muffled flourish and a bugler played Taps.
At a larger ceremony at Arlington’s Amphitheater, the president spoke of the heroic sacrifice of America’s military men and women. He told the assembled military families that being their commander and chief is his most humbling honor.
“We gather today in solemn respect, mindful that we are guests here, mindful that we share this hallowed space with a family’s moment of quiet grief, mindful that many veterans not far from here are tracing their fingers over black granite for friends who never came home,” he said. “On behalf of a proud and grateful nation, we thank you.”
The president noted the conflicts the U.S. military has been involved in over the last decade are drawing down. “In Iraq, they have battled a brutal insurgency, trained new security forces and given the Iraqi people the opportunity to forge a better future,” he said.
“In Afghanistan, they have pushed back the Taliban and decimated al Qaeda and delivered the ultimate justice to Osama bin-Laden. In concert with our allies, they have helped end Gadhafi’s brutal dictatorship and returned Libya to its people,” the president said.
“In just a few weeks, the long war in Iraq will finally come to an end,” he said to applause. “Our transition in Afghanistan is moving forward. My fellow Americans, our troops are coming home.”
But many veterans are coming home to an unemployment rate higher for them than for Americans as a whole. The president said the government would hire more veterans and he called on the private sector to do the same. “They’ve earned their place among the greatest of generations,” he said.
The president said the U.S. economy needs the “tremendous talents” and “specialized skills” of veterans. “So on this Veterans Day, I ask every American, recruit our veterans,” he said. “If you’re a business owner, hire them. If you’re a community leader, a mayor, a pastor or a preacher, call on them to join your efforts. Organize your community to make a sustained difference in the life of a veteran because that veteran can make an incredible difference in the life of your community.”
The president directed veterans looking for jobs to a new government website, and he said civilians looking to support veterans and active duty military should visit joiningforces.gov, a website set up by Mrs. Obama and Vice President Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden.
“There’s no such thing as too small a difference,” the president said. “That effort you make may have the biggest impact.”