(CNN) President Barack Obama gave a special salute Monday to Americans who lost their lives fighting in the Korean War noting the upcoming 60th anniversary of the conflict's end and asked Americans to remember the troops' work in Afghanistan as that war winds down.
Last Memorial Day I stood here and spoke about how for the first time in nine years Americans were no longer fighting and dying in Iraq. Today a transition is under way in Afghanistan and our troops are coming home the president said after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. This time next year we will mark the final Memorial Day of our war in Afghanistan.
He delivered Memorial Day remarks the week after addressing America's controversial counterterrorism strategies and a rash of sexual assaults in the military that he said could threaten national security.
Calling Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery a monument to a common thread in the American character Obama asked the audience not to forget the men and women who are willing to give their lives and lay down their lives for the freedoms the nation enjoys.
A serviceman recently wrote the president to say he feared our work in Afghanistan is fading from memory Obama said. And he's right. As we gather here today at this very moment more than 60 000 of our fellow Americans still serve far from home in Afghanistan. They're still going out on patrol still living in spartan forward operating bases still risking their lives to carry out their mission.Alex Burgess gets emotional at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday May 27 as he visits the grave of a friend who was killed in Iraq. People across the country paid tribute to fallen military service members throughout the Memorial Day weekend. President Barack Obama greets people while visiting Arlington National Cemetery on May 27. Obama delivers Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery on May 27. This time next year we will mark the final Memorial Day of our war in Afghanistan he said. Crowds listen as Obama honors U.S. military service members on Memorial Day. He called Arlington National Cemetery a monument to a common thread in the American character. Obama lays a commemorative wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Friends and family gather at Arlington National Cemetery on May 27 to visit the grave site of Army Capt. Ronald George Luce Jr. He died in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan in 2009. Flowers honor the memory of a veteran at the National World War II Memorial in Washington on May 27. More than 400 000 Americans died during the war. Desiree Neal visits the grave of her grandfather Army Sgt. Lyle Johnson with her daughter Sophia and her husband Ryan during a Memorial Day weekend service at the State Veterans Cemetery near Little Falls Minnesota on Sunday May 26. Johnson was a Korean War veteran who died in 2011. Korean War veteran Bob Pellow 84 carries a flag during the ceremony at the State Veterans Cemetery near Little Falls on May 26. People make impressions of a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on May 26. A group participates in a Memorial Day parade on May 26 in Waterbury Connecticut. A couple dressed as Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln embrace while waiting for the Memorial Day parade in Waterbury to pass on May 26. Members of the Mattatuck Drum Band billed as the country's oldest fife and drum band warm up before joining the Memorial Day parade in Waterbury on May 26. Jim Cloyes salutes riders taking part in Rolling Thunder's Ride to the Wall on May 26 in Washington. Every Memorial Day weekend thousands of motorcyclists gather in the nation's capital and make their way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Motorcyclists wave American flags during the Rolling Thunder event in Washington on May 26. Participants remember veterans during a Memorial Day weekend ceremony on May 26 in Williams Township Pennsylvania. Children warm up with their instruments before joining a Memorial Day parade May 26 in Waterbury Connecticut. Phillis LeSage left and Julie Foret play a game during a living history event in observance of Memorial Day at the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery in Chalmette Louisiana on May 26. Patricia Corral makes calas deep fried rice cakes that were a popular breakfast dish in New Orleans dating back to the 1800s during the living history event May 26 in Chalmette. Boy Scout Patrick Mach places an American flag on a veteran's grave in Moore Oklahoma on Saturday May 25. The annual project took place in Moore Cemetery which is next to a neighborhood that the May 20 tornado heavily damaged. James Venable 82 carries flags to place on veterans' graves at Bayview Cemetery in Jersey City New Jersey on May 25. Jahvanni Gifford 4 walks through Bayview Cemetery in Jersey City on May 25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Photos Memorial Day weekend President Obama hopes to reset agenda Memorial weekend in D.C. Honoring the troops Obama Hold fallen heroes in your hearts
And when they give their lives they are still being laid to rest in cemeteries in the quiet corners across our country including here in Arlington.
Obama cited a handful of troops by name who were buried at Arlington after making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan
Capt. Sara Cullen a West Point graduate and Black Hawk helicopter pilot died after a crash during a training mission near Kandahar.
Staff Sgt. Frankie Phillips a combat medic was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol. He was so humble that his parents never knew how many lives he had saved until soldiers started showing up at his funeral from thousands of miles away Obama said.
Staff Sgt. Eric Christian served five tours of duty because he felt responsible for his team and was determined to finish the mission. He was killed escorting a U.S. official to meet with Afghan leaders.
For those of us who bear the solemn responsibility of sending these men and women into harm's way we know the consequences all too well Obama said. I feel it every time I meet a wounded warrior every time I visit Walter Reed and every time I grieve with a Gold Star family.
Chuck Hagel a former Army sergeant who volunteered for the Vietnam War and is the first enlisted combat veteran to hold the post of defense secretary told CNN's Barbara Starr that he remembers soldiers who served alongside him including a captain who was killed 14 days into his tour. Hagel was next to him when he died he said.
Anybody who has ever been in combat remembers the names remembers the faces remembers the fun remembers the uniqueness of every person the defense secretary said.
Obama arrived at the cemetery amid a 21 gun salute and was met by Hagel cemetery Executive Director Kathryn Condon and Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington commander of the Army's military district of Washington.
Linnington escorted the president to the tomb where Obama laid the wreath and observed a moment of silence before speaking at the Memorial Amphitheater.
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The president who used last year's occasion to pledge his support for Vietnam War veterans spoke Saturday about the 1% of the American people (who) bear the burden of our defense.
They are heroes each and every one he said. They gave America the most precious thing they had the last full measure of devotion. And because they did we are who we are today a free and prosperous nation the greatest in the world.
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He continued They risk their lives and many give their lives for something larger than themselves or any of us the ideals of liberty and justice that make America a beacon of hope for the world. That's been true throughout our history from our earliest days when a tiny band of revolutionaries stood up to an empire to our 9/11 generation which continues to serve and sacrifice today.
Obama further urged Americans to do more than remember to care for the loved ones the fallen soldiers leave behind to ensure that veterans have adequate care jobs and benefits and to support military missions at home and abroad.
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The speech comes at a time when the administration is dogged by controversy. While facing tough questions about the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups and his administration's response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi Libya Obama also answered questions last week about the use of drones the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and sexual assault in the military.
In a Thursday speech he said drones are a necessary evil but one that must be used more judiciously as the American security situation evolves. About Gitmo he said he would push Congress to allow him to shut down a facility that should never have been opened.
On Friday responding to a Defense Department report that the number of cases of unwanted sexual contact had jumped 35% between 2010 and 2012 Obama said the attacks threaten the trust and discipline that is the military's backbone.
That's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes. Because they have no place in the greatest military on Earth Obama said during remarks at the U.S. Naval Academy.
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