Americans have many obligations, President Joe Biden said. But one of them rises above all others: doing right by the service members who fight on behalf of the United States.
“I’ve often said that, as a nation, we have many obligations,” Biden said today during a Memorial Day commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery. “The only one that is truly sacred, the only truly sacred obligation we have is to prepare and equip those women and men we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they return home … and when they don’t.”
That obligation, Biden said, is one that unites all Americans.
“It brings us together to make sure that the women and men who are willing to lay down their lives for us get the very best from us in return,” he said.
The president said one effort underway now to live up to that obligation involves legislation moving through Congress that will deliver health care services and benefits to veterans and the survivors impacted by toxic exposure to things such as burn pits.
“We have a duty to do right by them,” the president said. “I’m determined to make sure that our brave service families and [service] members that served alongside them do not wait decades for the care and benefits that they deserve. That’s why we’re working so hard to find out what the facts are.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said this Memorial Day is the first since the end of America’s longest war — the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan.
“In the year since we last gathered on this solemn day, America’s longest war has come to a close,” he said. “Today, we remember the 2,461 American service members and personnel who fell in Afghanistan. And we remember all those who still carry the wounds of that war to body and to soul. We hold them in our hearts alongside the patriots across generations who gave their lives to defend us all.”
Many of the veterans who were killed in Afghanistan, Austin said, are laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with veterans from other U.S. conflicts. Memorial Day is for them all.
“The heroes here are joined together — united not just by their final resting place, but by their devotion to the values that gave life to our democracy,” Austin said. “And they came from every state, from every territory, from every background, and from every creed. But they were all patriots who loved their country, who marched to defend our democracy, and who fought to forge a more perfect union. Their sacrifice demands more than even our deepest gratitude.”
Another thing that unites those fallen service members was their dedication to the idea responsible for making the United States a nation, an idea embedded in the founding documents of the nation, said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.
“Our fallen fought and gave their lives for an idea,” Milley said. “A simple, yet powerful, idea. The idea that is America — embedded in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — for which we swear an oath. The idea that here in the United States of America every single one of us is born, free and equal. No matter who you are. No matter where you came from.”
Under the flag of the United States, Milley said, America’s fallen lived knowing that freedom, and the idea that is America, is worth fighting for.
“It’s up to us, the living, to ensure they did not die in vain,” he said. “And we do that by recommitting ourselves to the idea, the values, that constitute America.”
Fallen U.S. service members, said Biden, are often survived by family members who will forever remember the sacrifice their loved ones made the loss they feel.
“Every Gold Star family, every survivor and family member and caregiver, this grateful nation owes you, as well as the person you lost,” Biden said. “We could never repay the sacrifice. But we will never stop trying. We’ll never fail in our duty to remember. With their lives, they bought our freedom. And, so, with our lives, we must always live up to their example: putting service before self, caring for our neighbors as ourselves, working fervently to bring our union just that much closer to fulfilling the founding creed.”