FORT HOOD, Texas - Somberly reciting 13 names and 13stories, President Barack Obama saluted the Americans killed atthis Army post as heroes who died for their country - and promiseda nation demanding answers that "the killer will be met withjustice."
Addressing a hushed crowd of thousands of soldiers Tuesday, thepresident spoke forcefully if indirectly of the alleged shooter'smotives in last week's massacre, never mentioning Maj. Nidal Hasanby name.
"It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led tothis tragedy," Obama said. "But this much we do know: No faithjustifies these murderous and craven acts."
It was an apparent reference to reports that Hasan hadcommunicated with a radical Islamic imam. A vast investigation isunder way, including questions about what the government knew aboutHasan and whether action should have been taken.
The president's remarks at a memorial service were personal,more about how the victims lived than how they died: the Eaglescout, the newlywed, the expectant mother, the soldier eager tocatch Osama bin Laden by herself. The president spent more timemeeting privately with the wounded and with loved ones of thosekilled than speaking in public.
His tone stern, Obama pledged to the crowd that "the killerwill be met with justice - in this world, and the next."
On a steamy Texas day, Obama stepped into a scene filled withmilitary resolve and tender moments. Soldiers helped woundedfriends to their seats. A little girl in a black dress and shinyshoes clutched her mother's hand as hurting families streamed in.
Thousands upon thousands gathered on a field for the ceremony.Right below the stage was a traditional military tribute to thefallen - 13 pairs of combat boots, each with an inverted rifletopped with a helmet. A picture of each person rested below theboots.
Riflemen fired a last salute. A bugler played taps.
After the ceremony, Obama walked solemnly along the row ofboots, placing a commander-in-chief's coin next to each victim'sphoto in tribute.
Then soldiers and loved ones traced the same path to rememberthose lost and give a final salute, one woman nearly collapsingwith grief.
Even as Obama honored the dead, there was fingerpointing back in Washington about what the military knew of Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, before the shooting rampage.
Two U.S. officials said a Washington-based joint terrorism taskforce overseen by the FBI was notified of communications betweenHasan and a radical imam overseas and the information was turnedover to a Defense Criminal Investigative Service employee assignedto the group. But a military official denied prior knowledge of theArmy psychiatrist's contacts with any Muslim extremists.
All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity becausethey were not authorized to talk about the case on the record.
In Texas, one soldier who attended the memorial said the mood at Fort Hood was turning from sadness to anger as soldiers learnedmore about Hasan's background.
"A lot of folks are angry because they feel this could havebeen prevented," said Spc. Brian Hill, a 25-year-old soldier from Nashville, Tenn., who was injured in Iraq and walks with a cane."Somebody should have been paying attention."
Obama, in his public remarks, spoke of the tranquility andliberty enjoyed by most Americans, and said the 13 fallen gavetheir lives for it.
"That is their legacy," he said.
As much as the president made the moment about the gunman'svictims, the ceremony also was about him. Presidents inevitablymust take the lead in times of tragedy, and this was Obama's momentto offer himself as consoler in chief.
The president worked through several drafts of his speech,including three on the Air Force One flight down to Texas. Heviewed the personal stories as the most important part of thespeech, a senior aide said.
About the victims and the soldiers who rushed to help them,Obama said, "We need not look to the past for greatness, becauseit is before our very eyes."
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama devoted considerable time tothree private meetings with those affected by the shooting rampage,meeting first with families of those killed, then with some ofthose wounded and their families, and later with those stillhospitalized.
"Just the president being here was a great morale booster toshow the country he was here for the families," said RonaldFiveash, a sailor whose brother was shot four times but survived.
Sheila Wormuth, whose husband is stationed at Fort Hood, camewith her 3-year-old daughter to show their support. While herhusband wasn't at the shooting site, she said, "what happens to myhusband's brothers and sisters happens to us."
Bonita Childs, 46, drove 30 miles to attend the ceremony, eventhough she had no connection to Fort Hood.
"I thought coming here today and showing my gratitude was theleast I could do," she said.
In a memorial offered in deeply personal terms, Obama spokeevery victim's name and told of their lives.
"These men and women came from all parts of the country,"Obama said. "Some had long careers in the military. Some hadsigned up to serve in the shadow of 9/11. Some had known intensecombat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some cared for those did. Theirlives speak to the strength, the dignity and the decency of thosewho serve, and that is how they will be remembered."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times