As Americans nationwide honored military service members and veterans on Memorial Day, including two former Navy SEALs killed in the September attack in Benghazi, Libya, President Obama called on the country not to overlook the sacrifices still being made by troops serving in Afghanistan.
The president, who last week outlined a plan to scale back the global war on terrorism, said even though the U.S. will pull its forces out of Afghanistan by this time next year, about 60,000 troops are still deployed there.
"As I said last week, 'America stands at a crossroads,'" Mr. Obama said at Arlington National Cemetery. "But even as we turn a page on a decade of conflict, even as we look forward, let us not forget as we gather here today that our nation is still at war."
Mr. Obama noted that, in past conflicts, most civilians were directly affected because they knew service members, or because they contributed to the war effort in other ways. But Mr. Obama said today's all-volunteer military force and advances in technology have shielded most Americans from a personal connection to the war in Afghanistan.
"Most Americans are not directly touched by war," he said. "As a consequence, not all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depths of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made in our name right now, as we speak, every day. Our troops and our military families understand this. As we go about our daily lives, we must remember that our countrymen are still serving, still fighting, still putting their lives on the line for all of us."
Mr. Obama laid a wreath Monday at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, after he and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a breakfast at the White House with "Gold Star" families of service members who have been killed.
Honoring Benghazi victims
At the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in La Jolla, Calif., meanwhile, a veterans group held a special ceremony to honor 42-year-old Glen Doherty and 41-year-old Tyrone Woods, former SEALs who were killed in the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Both were from San Diego; also killed in the attack were U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and information officer Sean Smith.
Republican lawmakers have pressed an investigation of the administration's lack of a military response to the attack, and its initial portrayal of the assault as a mob reaction to an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S., rather than a planned terrorist act.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said in a Memorial Day statement that the sacrifice of veterans "has kept America free and strong."
"We thank all of our veterans and military families, and mourn with those who have lost their loved ones," Mr. Cantor said. "Their legacies live on in our hearts and their heroism inspires us to continue to build an America worthy of their sacrifice."
The national holiday commemorating those who died in military service comes just days after Mr. Obama called for a reset in the war on terrorism, outlining a strategy that replaces what President George W. Bush labeled a "global war on terror" with what Mr. Obama sees as a "series of persistent targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists." He said a perpetual war against jihadists could escalate into larger conflicts, sap needed resources at home and "prove self-defeating."
But many Republicans said the president's plan sounds more like a retreat at a time when terrorism and militant radical Islamic elements are far from defeated. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the president was showing a "lack of resolve." Former Speaker Newt Gingrich called Mr. Obama's strategy "breathtakingly naive."
In one of several ceremonies honoring Americans killed in Afghanistan, the city of South Sioux City, Neb., unveiled a statue honoring Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara, a dog handler for Navy SEALs killed in a 2011 helicopter crash. His service dog was also killed in the crash, and is memorialized beside him in the statue.
At the American Airpower Museum on Long Island, N.Y., a program honored Women Air Service Pilots, or WASPs, who tested and ferried completed aircraft from factories to bases during World War II. Thirty-eight died during the war, including Alice Lovejoy of Scarsdale, N.Y., who was killed on Sept. 13, 1944, in a midair collision over Texas.
"It's very important that we recognize not only their contribution to American history, but women's history," said Julia Lauria-Blum, curator of the WASP exhibit at the museum. "These women really blazed a path; they were pioneers for women's aviation. And most important, they gave their lives serving their country and must be honored like anyone else on Memorial Day."
Another wreath-laying ceremony was held at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City. The park is a tribute to Roosevelt's famous speech calling for all people to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
In suburban Boston, veterans gathered in a park to mark Memorial Day this year rather than hold a parade because of failing health and dwindling numbers. The city of Beverly called off its parade because so few veterans would be able to march. The parade has been a fixture in the town since the Civil War.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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