(Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)
President Obama honored fallen American veterans on Memorial Day by participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, followed by a service at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Obama said in his Memorial Day address that this day was to memorialize patriots who "gave of themselves until they had nothing more to give."
"Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. 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 a crowd at the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater.
"And we must honor it as a nation by keeping our sacred trust with all who wear America’s uniform, and the families who love them; by never giving up the search for those who’ve gone missing under our country’s flag or are held as prisoners of war; by serving our patriots as well as they serve us – from the moment they enter the military, to the moment they leave it, to the moment they are laid to rest."
The Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is the final resting place of more than 300,000 Americans, including presidents and a first lady.
In his speech, Obama also invoked scripture as he recently did at the Memorial Service for tornado victims in Joplin, Mo., Sunday.
The president cited a verse from the Book of Isaiah, which was mailed to him by Gold Star parents. The verse read, "When I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’"
"That’s what we memorialize today. That spirit that says, send me, no matter the mission. Send me, no matter the risk. Send me, no matter how great the sacrifice I am called to make," said Obama.
He also told the story of Travis Manion and Lieutenant Brendan Looney, two roommates who became friends while at the Naval Academy. After graduation, Travis was deployed to Iraq while Brendan was sent to Korea.
Both gave their lives for their country. Travis was killed by a sniper while trying to rescue another Marine. Brendan who later went to serve in Afghanistan lost his life in a helicopter crash.
They are buried side by side at the national cemetery. The epitaph written by Travis' father reads, "Warriors for freedom; Brothers forever."
Obama said their friendship reflects the meaning of Memorial Day: brotherhood, sacrifice, love of country.
"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," said the president.
"May God bless the souls of the venerable warriors we’ve lost, and the country for which they died."
Before the Memorial Day observance at the cemetery, the president and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a breakfast for Gold Star families at the White House.
On Monday, churches also showed a video message where Michelle Obama appears, asking them to do more in serving military families. The effort is part of her Joining Forces campaign to enlist all segments of society in helping service members and their families.
"You can rally these youth groups to serve these families. You can host programs to help families deal with the stresses of war. You can partner with an existing program or ministry that serves military families," the first lady said in the video.
"Or you can use your respected voices to shine a light on the sacrifices and contributions these families are making. Each one of us can do something."