WASHINGTON — Paying tribute to dead soldiers and their families, President Obama said Monday that the nation had reached a “milestone” of relative peace, noting the end of the Iraq war and plans to end America’s role in the Afghan war.
“After a decade under a dark cloud of war we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” Obama told a crowd of military families gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Memorial Day.
Obama made his remarks after laying a wreath laden with red and white roses at the Tomb of the Unknowns, a presidential tradition each Memorial Day.
Under a bright, cloudless sky, the president was joined by first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, at the marble sarcophagus on a hill overlooking Washington.
He focused his tribute on the fallen in the Iraq War, a conflict he opposed as he ran for office and declared ended in December. He named four men killed on the first day of the invasion — Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, Staff Sgt. Kendall Waters-bey, Cpl. Brian M. Kennedy and Capt. Ryan A. Beaupre — and also noted Army Spec. David Hickman, the last U.S. soldier to die before the withdrawal.
The president and NATO allies last week ratified plans to withdraw most U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of the 2014, although the details and the pace of the withdrawal are unclear.
Still, he has been eager to emphasize the near completion of that unpopular conflict. His message on Monday underscored that message and even carried a hint of the antiwar critique of his last presidential bid.
“As commander in chief, I can tell you that sending our troops into harm’s way is the most wrenching decision that I have to make. I can promise you I will never do so unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Obama said. “And that when we do we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation.”
After the Arlington ceremony, Obama crossed the Potomac River to pay tribute to Vietnam veterans at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C..
"You were sometimes blamed for the misdeeds of a few," Obama said at the Vietnam War Memorial, according to The Associated Press. "You came home and were sometimes denigrated when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened."