President Obama hailed the nation’s fallen service members in a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, in which he noted that the war in Afghanistan was winding down but not over.
“Fewer Americans are making the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and that’s progress for which we are profoundly grateful,” Obama said Monday. “And this time next year, we will mark the final Memorial Day of our 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.”
As of Friday, 2,093 U.S. troops had died in more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures. More than 4,400 American troops died in the Iraq conflict, which Obama declared concluded in December 2011.
That shift was reflected in the fallen troops Obama chose to honor during the Arlington ceremony, which was attended by First Lady Michelle Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
At last year’s event, Obama focused on service members who died in Iraq. This year, Obama praised and spoke briefly about Army Capt. Sara Cullen, Army Staff Sgt. Frankie Phillips and Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Christian, all of whom died in Afghanistan.
“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.”
Obama, who greeted mourners at the cemetery after his remarks, also marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the fighting in the Korean War. More than 54,000 U.S. service members died in that conflict, which is not officially over.
The president also urged Americans to remember the fighting still underway in Afghanistan, where more than 60,000 U.S. troops remain.
“Not all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depth of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made in our name -- right now, as we speak, every day,” Obama said. “Our troops and our military families understand this, and they mention to me their concern about whether the country fully appreciates what’s happening.”
He concluded: “Let us never forget to always remember and to be worthy of the sacrifice they make in our name.”