By Julia LeDoux, Pentagram Staff WriterNovember 15, 2013
ARLINGTON, Va. - With American flags flying around the Memorial Amphitheater and the sounds of patriotic music supplied by The United States Air Force Band, veterans, their family members and supporters gathered at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month at Arlington National Cemetery for the National Veterans Day observance.
"Today we gather once more to honor patriots who have rendered the highest service that any American can offer this nation," President Barack Obama said in his address. "We join as one people to honor a debt we can never fully repay."
Obama said that in the life of the nation and across every generation, "there are those who stand apart, who step up. They raise their hand, they take that oath, they put on that uniform and they put their lives on the line. They do this so the rest of us might live in a country and a world that is safer, freer and more just. It is a gift they've given us."
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the observance came when the president recognized Richard Overton to a standing ovation from the crowd. The 107-year-old served in the South Pacific and is believed to be the nation's oldest-known World War II veteran. Overton, who was seated in a wheelchair, stood in acknowledgement of the applause.
"This year as we mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the fighting in Korea, we pay special tribute to those who served in the Korean War," continued Obama. "From the jungles of Vietnam to Desert Storm to the mountains of the Balkans, they have answered America's call, and since America was attacked on that clear September morning, millions more have assumed that mantle, defining one of the greatest generations of military service this country has ever known.
"On tour after tour after tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, this generation, the 9/11 generation, has met every mission we have asked of them. Today, we can say al-Qaida is on the path to defeat, our nation is more secure and our homeland is safer."
Obama vowed that the nation will never forget the sacrifices its veterans and their families have made.
"As commander-in-chief, I'm going to keep making sure we're providing unprecedented support to our veterans," he said, pledging assistance with jobs, education and health care for veterans.
"When we talk about fulfilling our promises to our veterans, we don't just mean for a few years, we mean now, tomorrow and forever," continued Obama.
He also said the Veterans Administration is working to reduce the claims backlogs that have plagued the agency.
"We've slashed [claims backlogs] by a third since March, and we're going to keep at it so you can get the benefits that you have earned and that you need when you need them," said Obama.
Speaking before Obama, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said for his agency, every day is Veterans Day.
"Veterans Day is not just a one-day-a-year event," he stressed. "It's an abiding commitment of every day of every year."
The Congressional Medal Society of the USA served as the host organization of the observance.
"It is because of the continued and iconic efforts of our veterans, coupled with the support of the American people, that the very foundation of this country's national strength and resolve continues to be rock solid and allows Americans and others throughout the world to enjoy freedom," said Harold Fritz, national president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society of the USA.
Prior to the observance, Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns with Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region/U.S. Army Military District of Washington commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan.