Unbroken line of vets keeps America free, Biden says

By U.S. ArmyNovember 13, 2014

VP at Veterans' Day Ceremony
Vice President Joe Biden lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in honor of Veterans Day, at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 11, 2014. Following the wreath, the Vice President addressed hundreds in the Memorial Amphitheater, include a large... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ARLINGTON, Va. (Nov. 11, 2014) -- An unbroken line of veterans has kept the United States and its freedoms safe since the founding of the republic, Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday at America's most sacred shrine.

Biden thanked veterans and their families for their efforts and sacrifices during Veterans' Day ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.

The vice president placed a wreath at the tomb and delivered remarks to about 2,000 veterans.

"Every single generation of veterans throughout our history has been the best that this country has had to offer," he said. "It is as true today as it was 200 years ago when a generation of warriors held the ramparts at Fort McHenry against the full might of the British navy in the Battle of Baltimore."

That battle, the vice president reminded the audience, inspired Francis Scott Key to write what became the U.S. national anthem -- The Star-Spangled Banner.

In the song, Key asks the question "does that star-spangled banner yet wave?" and the vice president used that question to illustrate the contributions of veterans through American history.

"Did that star-spangled banner wave in the hands of Civil War Sergeant William Carney, the first African-American Medal of Honor recipient, as he took that banner from a falling comrade and charged the ramparts of Fort Wagner?" he said.

Did it wave, Biden asked, "over observation posts that Medal of Honor Recipient Sergeant Ryan Pitts held against enemy rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire in the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan?"

Did it wave, he asked, over five Marines and a Navy corpsman atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima?

"Did that star-spangled banner yet wave over American troops in trenches in France, beaches of Normandy, mountains of Korea, jungles of Vietnam, streets of Fallujah and the valleys of Afghanistan?" he asked. "And does that star-spangled banner yet wave over every forward position, ship, base, woman and man deployed in the service of our nation today?"

Generations of veterans have ensured the answer to Key's question is yes, the vice president said. And this is because "as every adversary in every age who has ever come up against you has learned, American warriors never bend, never break and never, ever, ever yield," the vice president said. "That's why, as I tell every foreign leader I encounter, it's never, never, ever been a good bet to bet against the United States of America, because we have you."

Later in the day, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke at the Vietnam War Memorial. Hagel served as an Army sergeant in the 9th Infantry Division during Vietnam and spoke at the Wall about the meaning of the memorial.

The secretary spoke about his first Veterans Day as a veteran in Omaha, Nebraska.

"I've always remembered that Veterans Day in 1969, because it reminded me of the one constant throughout the Vietnam War -- the uncommon valor of common Americans from every corner of our country," he said. "They were the quiet heroes of our time. Some of these veterans are here today, and the names of many more are memorialized on the Wall behind us."

The Wall lists the names of the more than 58,000 Americans killed during the war. Those looking at the names also see the reflections of themselves.

"As it records the names of the past, and reflects our hopes for the future, it also offers a reminder -- a message that carries across generations: The Wall reminds us to honor those who defend our country -- from making sure they're treated with the dignity, respect, and appreciation they deserve, to caring for those who return home with visible -- and invisible -- wounds of war," Hagel said.

No matter when, where or what war, the United States has "a sacred responsibility" to care for and honor those who sacrificed, the secretary said.

The Wall also reminds Americans to be honest, he said.

"There is nothing to be gained by glossing over the darker portions of a war that bitterly divided America," Hagel said. "We must openly acknowledge past mistakes, and learn from them, because that is how we avoid repeating them."

The Wall reminds Americans to not take security for granted, and that "we must always question our policies that send our citizens to war, because our nation's policies must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask of the men and women who defend our country," he said.

Hagel called on all Americans to honor veterans by "creating new opportunities for them to contribute after their service in uniform, so they can continue to help make a better world. America is forever grateful for their service to our country."

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