WASHINGTON — On a day when Americans acknowledge military veterans, President Obama said he would honor current service members' work with a commitment to the "hard work of peace."
Speaking Wednesday to veterans and their families at a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Obama said that modern military personnel belong in history alongside veterans of "wars whose names have come to define eras."
"We don't mark this day each year as a celebration of victory. . . . We mark this day as a celebration of those who made victory possible," Obama said. Service members fight today, he continued, "in hopes of a day when we no longer need to."
The president delivered his first Veterans Day address flanked by top military officials and veterans, after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The ceremony began at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, commemorating the armistice ending the major actions of World War I in 1918. Congress later established the date as the holiday.
The anniversary falls at a time of grief for many, as the nation reels from the shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, Texas, last week that left 13 dead and dozens wounded. The U.S. also just marked its bloodiest month in the eight-year war in Afghanistan, a conflict into which Obama may deploy thousands more Americans in the coming months.
The president was somber Wednesday as he recalled his visit to Ft. Hood for a memorial service and talked about the determination he saw in the survivors of the attack.
"In this time of war," he said, "we gather here mindful that the generation serving today already deserves a place alongside previous generations for the courage they have shown and the sacrifices that they have made."
For veterans and their families, the president said, there was "no tribute, no commemoration, no praise" that can match the magnitude of their service and sacrifice.
He also said that future veterans would not suffer the neglect and condemnation that greeted many returning from Vietnam.
"When your tour ends," Obama said to those now serving, "when you touch our soil, you will be home in an America that is forever here for you, just as you've been there for us. That is my promise."