ARLINGTON, Virginia — President Barack Obama, in a Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery, urged Americans on Monday to honor the sacrifices of their war dead by “heeding the example they set.”
“Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay,” Obama said at the military cemetery, marking the solemn national holiday in the name of the nation’s fallen service members.
“But we can honor their sacrifice, and we must. We must honor it in our own lives by holding their memories close to our hearts, and heeding the example they set,” he told the service on this hot and muggy day just outside the nation’s capital.
The cemetery is the resting place of 300,000 US service members, presidents, and Supreme Court justices. It includes the graves of Revolutionary War dead up through those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We memorialize our first patriots — blacksmiths and farmers, slaves and freed men — who never knew the independence they won with their lives,” said Obama, who earlier laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
“We memorialize the armies of men, and women disguised as men, black and white, who fell in apple orchards and cornfields in a war that saved our union,” he added, alluding to the Civil War.
“We memorialize those who gave their lives on the battlefields of our times — from Normandy to Manila, Inchon to Khe Sanh, Baghdad to Helmand, and in jungles, deserts, and city streets around the world,” the president said.
Obama highlighted several service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying they are links “in an unbroken chain that stretches back to the earliest days of our Republic.”
The president told the story of Marine Lieutenant Travis Manion and Navy SEAL Brendan Looney, also a lieutenant. They had become best friends as roommates at the US Naval Academy.
After graduation, Manion deployed to Iraq. In April 2007 “while fighting to rescue his fellow Marines from danger, Travis was killed by a sniper,” Obama said.
Looney was killed last September in Afghanistan, along with eight others, in a helicopter crash.
The two families talked and agreed to move Manion’s remains from his cemetery in Pennsylvania and buried them side by side at Arlington.
“The friendship between 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion and Lieutenant Brendan Looney reflects the meaning of Memorial Day. Brotherhood. Sacrifice. Love of country,” Obama said.
“And it is my fervent prayer that we may honor the memory of the fallen by living out those ideals every day of our lives, in the military and beyond.”