(Updates with quotes, detail from ceremony)
By Jeff Mason
ARLINGTON, Va. May 27 President Barack Obama
payed tribute on Monday to fallen men and women of the U.S.
armed services during a Memorial Day ceremony in which he
reminded Americans that the country was still at war.
During a solemn visit to Arlington National Ceremony, the
resting ground for many military casualties, Obama noted in
remarks to visitors that next year would mark the last Memorial
Day of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
"But even as we turn the page on a decade of conflict, even
as we look forward, let us never forget, as we gather here
today, that our nation is still at war," Obama said.
Unlike World War Two or the Vietnam War, conflicts that
touched nearly every American, today most U.S. citizens were not
directly affected by the military conflicts overseas, the
"As we gather here today, at this very moment, more than
60,000 of our fellow Americans still serve far from home in
Afghanistan," Obama said.
"They're still going out on patrol, still living in spartan
forward operating bases, still risking their lives to carry out
their mission. And when they give their lives, they are still
being laid to rest in cemeteries in the quiet corners across our
country, including here in Arlington."
Most U.S. combat troops are slated to exit Afghanistan by
the end of 2014. Obama formally ended the U.S. war in Iraq
earlier in his White House tenure.
In a major policy speech last week, Obama said the United
States would shift its focus away from a "boundless global war
on terror" that began under his predecessor, Republican
President George W. Bush.
After his remarks on Monday, Obama and his wife, first lady
Michelle Obama, visited Section 60 of the cemetery, where the
newly slain are buried.
"Today, just steps from where these brave Americans lie in
eternal peace, we declare, as a proud and grateful nation, that
their sacrifice will never be forgotten," Obama said.
"And just as we honor them, we hold their families
close. Because for the parents who lose a child; for the
husbands and wives who lose a partner; for the children who lose
a parent, every loss is devastating. And for those of us who
bear the solemn responsibility of sending these men and women
into harm's way, we know the consequences all too well."
The first lady has made helping military families one of her
primary causes, along with fighting childhood obesity.
During the ceremony, Michelle Obama leaned forward to watch
as an Air Force singer delivered a powerful rendition of
"America the Beautiful."
Earlier, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier, placing his hand over his heart while taps was
Entering and exiting the cemetery, Obama's motorcade snaked
down a street lined with uniformed military members while the
boom of a ceremonial canon sounded off in the background. It
passed rows of white gravestones with small American flags
planted beside them, along with onlookers and family members who
had come to visit fallen loved ones.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)