President Obama visited Arlington National Cemetery Monday morning to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and spoke at the Memorial Amphitheater on the cemetery’s grounds.
Obama has spoken often recently, at a series of commencement speeches, about the need for the younger generation to reject the self-centeredness and materialism that many believe have been too much a part of American culture for the last few decades.
Monday, honoring the U.S. war dead, Obama said that having never served in the military, he “cannot know what it is like to walk into battle.”
“I’m the father of two young girls — but I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child. These are things I cannot know,” he said. “But I do know this: I am humbled to be the Commander-in-Chief of the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”
The president also mused out loud about what drives young men and women to join the military and sacrifice so much of themselves for their country.
What is thing, this sense of duty? What tugs at a person until he or she says “Send me”? Why, in an age when so many have acted only in pursuit of the narrowest self-interest, have the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others? Why have they been willing to bear the heaviest burden?
Whatever it is, they felt some tug; they answered a call; they said “I’ll go.” That is why they are the best of America, and that is what separates them from those of us who have not served in uniform — their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met.
The Wall Street Journal’s Michael M. Phillips report from Afghanistan in this weekend’s paper is one of the most gripping illustrations of what Obama described in his speech. Phillips’ reporting, writing and pictures shows us a company of U.S. Marines in a haunting wasteland of a town called Now Zad, and gives us insight into the physical, emotional and psychological battle that the young Marines are in the midst of.
And he shows us a daily experience of risk and danger that most of us going about our daily lives can barely, if at all, comprehend. The Marines endure “a daily routine of dangerous patrols through a no man’s land littered with land mines.”
Matthew Nolen, a 27-year-old Navy corpsman from Memphis, Tenn., insists that each man on his patrols carry two Velcro tourniquets. The assumption is that if a Marine steps on a mine, he’ll likely lose both legs at once, and the corpsman will have two arterial bleeds to stem. Some infantrymen wear tourniquets loose around their ankles, like bracelets, so they can get at them quickly.
“It’s not for me,” said Sgt. Roy Taylor, a 23-year-old squad leader from New Orleans. “It’s for the guy next to me.”
May we be worthy of these noble men and women who have gone willingly into the shadow of the valley of death for our sakes.
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times