WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden today called on the nation to honor the sacrifices of fallen service members by keeping the flame of democracy they fought to uphold burning brightly.
The "very soul of America," Biden said, endures today because of the sacrifices of generations of women and men who have fought and sacrificed to uphold the nation's highest values.
"Together, we're not just the fortunate inheritors of their legacy," the president said during a Memorial Day commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery. "We must be the keeper of their mission, the bearers of the flame of freedom that [has] kept burning bright for nearly 247 years.
"That's the truest memorial to their lives: our actions every day to ensure that our democracy endures, our constitution endures and the soul of our nation, our decency endures," he said.
Biden was joined by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley in honoring fallen service members during the 155th Memorial Day, wreath-laying ceremony.
The president said on Memorial Day, Americans are compelled to ask what they must do to uphold the values service members died to preserve. "Today, it's on all of us — all of us — to ensure that sacrifice was not in vain," he said.
Austin echoed Biden's call to honor the legacy of those service members by "writing the next chapters in America's story of service."
Noting the 50th anniversary of the nation's all-volunteer force, Austin said today's fighting force has "blended military power with moral power and combined the force of American arms with the strength of people who freely choose to stand guard over democracy."
"Every time a qualified American stands up and raises their hand and serves with honor from any corner of the country and from any background, color or creed, this exceptional nation becomes even safer and stronger," he said.
He called on the nation to honor those who answer the call to service.
"Let us stand with all who pledge their lives to defend human freedom," he said. "And let us come together as one nation to strengthen our democracy."
Milley said rows of white headstones at Arlington National Cemetery serve as a reminder that "freedom is a gift to us all, a gift paid for by those who gave, in the words of [former President Abraham] Lincoln, the last full measure of devotion."
"The greatest honor that we can bestow upon those who have fallen, the way to remember them the best," he said, "is to ensure that this idea of freedom, that the Constitution of the United States of America, the idea that is America will continue for our posterity and shall not perish from this earth."