Americans gathered at memorials, museums and monuments and the president laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery to honor fallen service members on Memorial Day, as combat in Afghanistan approaches 12 years and the ranks of World War II veterans dwindle.
“Let us not forget as we gather here today that our nation is still at war,” President Barack Obama said after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
“When they give their lives, they are still being laid to rest in cemeteries in quiet corners across our country, including here in Arlington,” he said. He told the stories of three soldiers who had died. Each had been devoted to their mission and were praised by others for saving lives.
Earlier in the morning, he and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a breakfast at the White House with “Gold Star” families of service members who have been killed.
Another wreath-laying ceremony was at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City. The park is a tribute to President Roosevelt’s famous speech calling for all people to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined military leaders and others at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Manhattan. He said celebrate the day and the good weather but also “remember the sacrifice that was made so that we could be here.”
At the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, about 20 bicyclists clustered around veteran and museum volunteer Tom Blakey. The paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division jumped at Normandy on D-Day — June 6, 1944 — and in May 1945 helped liberate the work camp at Wobbelin in northwest Germany.
“Most of us wondered why we were there, killing people and being killed,” he said. “We didn’t do anything to deserve it. When we got to that camp and saw what was there, the lights came on.”