President honors veterans

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

ARLINGTON, Va. -- On a cold, rain-soaked Veterans Day, President Barack Obama walked slowly through the white, stone markers at the section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two wars he oversees as commander in chief.

Obama led the nation Wednesday in observing Veterans Day with a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington before an unannounced visit to the section reserved for those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

''We gather here mindful that the generation serving today already deserves a place alongside previous generations for the courage they have shown and the sacrifices that they have made,'' Obama said in a brief speech following the wreath-laying. Obama pledged he would do right by all veterans and families, saying: ''America will not let you down.''

The president spoke one day after honoring the victims of a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. He said he was struck by the determination of the soldiers there, a quality that unites generations of American servicemen.

''To all of them -- to our veterans, to the fallen and to their families -- there is no tribute, no commemoration, no praise that can truly match the magnitude of your service and your sacrifice,'' he said.

The nation observed Veterans Day from remembrances at the nation's capital to a New York City parade to ceremonies in towns and cities across the nation and overseas.

At Camp Eggers in Kabul, soldiers observed a moment of silence for the more than 800 U.S. service members that have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban regime.

The Navajo Code Talkers were special guests at the New York parade's opening ceremony, where a wreath was laid at the World War I Eternal Light Monument in Madison Square Park. As young Marines during World War II, the Code Talkers used secret Navajo language-encrypted military terms that the Japanese were never able to crack.

As the Code Talkers were introduced, the crowd -- which included World War II veteran and actor Tony Curtis -- let out a loud cheer.

Boston College dedicated a 70-foot-long granite wall bearing the names of 209 alumni who lost their lives while serving in a war zone. Bells tolled in three sets of 11 from the college's historic Gasson Tower, symbolizing the exact time that an armistice was declared in World War I. Harvard unveiled a plaque on campus to honor the university's 16 alumni who have received the Medal of Honor.

Hundreds of Minnesota military veterans and family members filled a community center gymnasium in the suburbs of St. Paul to hear words of thanks from state political leaders. The ceremony drew veterans ranging from young enlisted soldiers to retired generals.

''The title of veteran deserves great respect in America,'' Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. ''Veteran stands for a life dedication to our nation's greatest cause -- the cause of freedom.''