Honoring veterans past and present
November 17, 2011
"To all our nation's veterans: Whether you fought in Salerno or Samarra, Khe Sanh or the Korengal, you are part of an unbroken chain of men and women who have served this country with honor and distinction. On behalf of a proud and grateful nation, we thank you," said President Barack H. Obama, at a Veterans Day Observance in Arlington National Cemetery.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of this century found spectators wrapped in blankets and huddling together during a breezy 50-degree Veterans Day Observance, watching as the president not only laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers but also gave remarks in the Memorial Amphitheater.
Not all in attendance could call America home. In the second row from the back of the amphitheater, a brown uniform stood out among the rest of the crowd, proudly bearing medals earned. Warrant Officer 2nd Class Keith Potter, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment British Army, came to America especially for the Veterans Day ceremony.
Explaining this was only his second time out of Britain for the celebrations, it was his first time ever witnessing the events that take place in ANC for Veterans Day.
"We normally have a parade right after the queen has laid the wreath at Cenotaph in London," said Potter. "The president, it was fantastic to see him and all the veterans. To see all these guys is brilliant."
A 21-cannon salute marked the arrival in the cemetery of Obama accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama in time to lay the wreath at precisely 11 a.m.
Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commanding general of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington escorted the president front and center where Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stackpole, sergeant of the guard, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), waited with wreath. Obama took hold of the wreath, and with Stackpole, placed the wreath on the stand in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.
Linnington, along with Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, hosted the presidential veterans day observance.
In support of the ceremony, The U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own," provided music for the ceremony. Jim Benson veterans affairs representative for was master of ceremonies for the day, giving a brief history and introducing the other speakers, Capt. Russell Vowinkel, retired U.S. Navy Commander-in-chief, Military Order of the World Wars, Shinseki and Obama.
For those sitting in the amphitheater it wasn't long after the president entered the cemetery that he made his "Hail to the Chief" entrance into the second half of the ceremony.
The U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" played during the armed forces era representation, showcasing how much the armed services have changed in the decades following Pearl Harbor and leading up to the current conflicts.
During the parade of colors, various veteran associations carried their organization flags into the amphitheater, each matched with an American flag. Lining the sides of the amphitheater, the colors were vibrant and paid tribute to decades of veterans who fought in wars long ago.
"Over the past decade, more than five million Americans have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces," said Obama. "Of these, three million stepped forward after the attacks of September 11th, knowing full well that they could be sent into harm's way."
He went on to praise the work that has been done in the past decade, that those serving currently have fought in dangerous places and because of their efforts, "we can stand here today and say with confidence -- the tide of war is receding." The president emphasized that by year's end the conflict in Iraq will finally be over.
"Only 27-years-old on average, these young men and women have shattered the false myth of their generation's apathy, for they came of age in an era when so many institutions failed to live up to their responsibilities," continued Obama. "But they chose to serve a cause greater than themselves. They saw their country threatened. But they signed up to confront that threat … and they've earned their place among the greatest of generations."
He went on to talk about the great service veterans have accomplished in their time with the armed forces, and asked those not in uniform to help veterans as they come out of the military and continue to serve America in other ways.
"If there is anything our veterans teach us, it's that there is no threat we cannot meet; there is no challenge we cannot overcome. America's best days are still ahead," said Obama.