ABC News' Avery Miller and Ann Compton report: Saying "this day is about you," President Obama paid tribute to America’s fallen soldiers and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery.
In his speech, the president told a story about two roommates at the Naval Academy, Travis Manion and Brendan Looney, who were both deployed after graduation. Travis was killed by a sniper in Iraq in 2009. Three years later, Brendan died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
“Heartbroken, yet filled with pride, the Manions and the Looneys knew only one way to honor their sons’ friendship,” the president said. “They moved Travis from his cemetery in Pennsylvania and buried them side by side here at Arlington.
“‘Warriors for freedom,’ reads the epitaph written by Travis’s father. ‘Brothers forever.’”
Obama also quoted a letter written to him by Army veteran Paul Tarbox who mentioned he had seen a photo of the president walking amidst the marble headstones in “Section 60” in 2009. He wanted the president to know about a special friend of his and a brave warrior -- Staff Sgt. Joe Phaneuf -- who was buried under one of those headstones.
“Joe, he [Paul] told me, was a friend of his, one of the best men he’d ever known, the kind of guy who could have the entire barracks in laughter, who was always there to lend a hand, from being a volunteer coach to helping build a playground,” the president said. “It was a moving letter, and Paul closed it with a few words about the hallowed cemetery where we are gathered here today.
“He wrote, ‘The venerable warriors that slumber there knew full well the risks that are associated with military service, and felt pride in defending our democracy. The true lesson of Arlington,’ he continued, ‘is that each headstone is that of a patriot. Each headstone shares a story. Thank you for letting me share with you [the story] about my friend Joe.’”
“Section 60” is the part of Arlington Cemetery where mostly soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have died since Sept. 11, 2001, are buried.
On a rainy Veterans’ Day in 2009, the president stopped unannounced at “Section 60” -- which some people call “the saddest acre in America” -- surprising families who were visiting the gravesites. It was early in his presidency at a time when the combat mission in Iraq was augmented by a surge in additional forces.
Today, when the combat mission in Iraq is over and the U.S. is preparing for a drawdown in Afghanistan, the president again wandered amid the marble headstones with his wife Michelle Obama. Aides said they spent time greeting families whose loved ones died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earlier today, the first couple hosted a breakfast at the White House for those who have lost family members in combat.
Although this is a holiday weekend for most Americans, the president has had a demanding schedule. After returning from his European tour late Saturday, Obama visited tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo. on Sunday where he honored the dead and vowed to help the small town rebuild.
The president did find some recreation time today after the Memorial Day ceremonies. He played golf at Ft. Belvoir, Va. despite the sweltering, 90 degrees weather.
Today’s ceremonies represent a far cry from last year when President Obama came under criticism when he decided to take his family home to Chicago for the long weekend, breaking the tradition of attending ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery. Obama, instead, laid a wreath at the national cemetery outside of Chicago, though his Memorial Day address was cut short by a rain and lightning storm.(via google trends)
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