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Obama pays tribute on Memorial Day

US president Barack Obama paid tribute to the men and women who have died defending America, pointing to Vietnam veterans as an under-appreciated and sometimes maligned group of war heroes who remained true to their nation despite an unwelcome homecoming.

"You were sometimes blamed for the misdeeds of a few," Mr Obama said at the Vietnam War Memorial. "You came home and were sometimes denigrated when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened."

"Even though some Americans turned their backs on you, you never turned your back on America," Mr Obama said.

Marking Memorial Day at both the black granite wall honouring more than 58,000 soldiers who died in the Vietnam War and earlier at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from the capital, Mr Obama noted that for the first time in nine years, "Americans are not fighting and dying in Iraq," and the nation was winding down its role in the conflict in Afghanistan.

"After a decade under the dark cloud of war, we can see the light of the new day on the horizon," Mr Obama said to an audience gathered at the Arlington amphitheatre lined with American flags under a warm sun.

In this election year, Mr Obama said America must remain committed to providing for the families of fallen soldiers and help returning service members seeking a job, higher education or health care benefits.

"As long as I'm president, we will make sure you and your loved ones will receive the benefits you've earned and the respect you deserve," Mr Obama said. "America will be there for you."

Mr Obama said sending troops into harm's way was "the most wrenching decision that I have to make. And I can promise you I will never do so unless it's absolutely necessary".

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, meanwhile, promised to maintain a dominant American military "with no comparable power anywhere in the world". The presumptive Republican presidential nominee appeared with Senator John McCain, the Republican Party's 2008 presidential candidate, before a crowd in San Diego estimated at 5,000 in what was billed as a Memorial Day service, not a campaign event.

"We have two courses we can follow: One is to follow in the pathway of Europe, to shrink our military smaller and smaller to pay for our social needs," Mr Romney said. "The other is to commit to preserve America as the strongest military in the world, second to none, with no comparable power anywhere in the world."

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