By Tom ManiNovember 10, 2009
Memorial remembrances at Arlington National Cemetery are a constant reminder of the debt owed to those who gave their all. Caretakers here are unceasing in tending for the grounds and maintaining the rituals that offer solace to friends and comrades in arms as well as to family members. So when the nation as a whole slows the onward rush of distractions to remember the fallen, Arlington is a place to turn to.
Thursday, members of ceremonial troop detachments of the various services, including Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Inafantry (The Old Guard) placed American flags at the graves of those who fought under it in the cause of liberty and justice.
And Monday, Memorial Day, President Barack Obama placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and paused along with a host of others as Sgt. Maj. Miles Overton played Ruffles and Flourishes, Sgt. Maj. Woodrow English played "Taps," and camera shutters of news agencies and private citizens alike provided a clicking background that promised "this is important."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael G. Mullen recalled the origin of Memorial Day as arising during Reconstruction in the aftermath of the horrors of the Civil War when North and South began the custom of setting aside a day to decorate the graves of martyred sons and fathers. The need to comprehend and recognize these sacrifices has not abated. "What we do understand as it is revealed to us more fully each passing spring," Mullen said, "is how precious and very rare these gifts truly are, in and above this world."
Obama echoed remarks he made as a candidate at a Memorial Day observance in Arizona last year, stating that although his grandfather served in Patton's Army, " I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle."
"I am the father of two young girls, but I cannot imagine what it's like to lose a child," he said.
"These are things I cannot know. But I do know this: I am humbled to be the Commander-in-Chief of the finest fighting force in the history of the world."
The audience gave sustained applause as he delivered a pledge:
"I know that there is nothing I will not do to keep our country safe, even as I face no harder decision than sending our men and women to war -- and no moment more difficult than writing a letter to the families of the fallen. And that's why as long as I am President, I will only send our troops into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary, and I will always provide them with the equipment and support they need to get the job done."
Obama conceded that military families "sacrifice more than we can understand and feel an absence greater than we can comprehend."
"That's why Michelle and I are committed to easing their burden."
"And I know what a grateful nation owes to those who serve under its proud flag. And that's why I promise all our servicemen and women that when the guns fall silent, and you do return home, it will be to an America that is forever here for you, just as you've been there for us.".
Obama thanked those like Superintendent John Metzler Jr., who cares for Arlington Cemetery "just as his father did before him," those of the the 3rd Infantry Regiment "who, regardless of weather or hour, guard the sanctity of this hallowed ground with the reverence it deserves." And he thanked the service men and women who placed an American flag before each headstone. "We are indebted to all who tend to this sacred place."
Obama called on the nation to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. And he offered a final reflection on the importance of Arlington itself:
"This bustling graveyard can be a restless place for the living, where solace sometimes comes only from meeting others who know similar grief," Obama said. "But it reminds us all the meaning of valor; it reminds us all of our own obligations to one another; it recounts that most precious aspect of our history, and tells us that we will only rise or fall together."