ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 11, 2009) -- "America will not let you down," President Barack Obama told veterans Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery, emphasizing "we will take care of our own."
More than 4,000 people gathered at the cemetery on a cold rain-soaked Wednesday morning for the 56th Annual National Veterans Day Observance.
Flanked by the silent hallowed grounds of the cemetery, the president placed a wreath in honor of the Unknown Soldiers resting there and in honor of all those who dedicated their lives to serving the nation. He was escorted to the Tomb of the Unknowns by Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, commanding general of Joint Force Headquarters - National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
First Lady Michelle Obama attended the ceremony, as did Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, making this the first time in recent history that a president and vice president have both attended a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington together.
After the wreath-laying ceremony, the president went into the Memorial Amphitheater where he was introduced by retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"The warriors and the honored today have earned the love, the respect, and the admiration of a grateful nation," Shinseki said.
"We honor your service. We are forever grateful," Obama said as he addressed the audience of veterans and families in the Memorial Amphitheater.
"I am deeply honored and humbled to spend Veterans Day with you, in this sacred place where generations of heroes have come to rest -- and generations of Americans have come to show their gratitude," Obama said.
He commended the current generation for their determination: "We gather here mindful that the generation serving today already deserves a place alongside previous generations for the courage they have shown and the sacrifices that they have made," Obama said.
"To all of them - to our veterans, to the fallen and to their families - there is no tribute, no commemoration, no praise that can truly match the magnitude of your service and your sacrifice," he said.
"Generations of (veterans) who above all else believed in and fought for a set of ideals. Because they did, our country still stands; our founding principles still shine; nations around the world that once knew nothing but fear now know the blessings of freedom," said Obama.
Reflecting on Arlington National Cemetery and surrounded by gravestones of generations, Obama said "This is a place where it is impossible not to be moved by that sacrifice."
Prior to leaving the cemetery the President took an unannounced detour to Section 60, where he walked around the simple white headstones of the more than 570 U.S. casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan buried there.
Arlington National Cemetery is a 624-acre active cemetery and is the final resting place for more than 330,000 Americans dating back to 1864 and the Civil War.
President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day (now Veterans Day). Arlington's first observance of Armistice Day took place Nov. 11, 1921. It would not be until June 1, 1954 that Nov. 11 would become the official day to honor American's veterans.
Wednesday's ceremony began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, commemorating the 1918 signing of the Armistice ending major actions in World War I.