- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2017

President Trump marked his first Memorial Day as commander in chief Monday, placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and paying his respects at the grave of the son of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.

The audience at the cemetery’s amphitheater gave sustained applause and cheers to an appreciative Mr. Trump in his first public appearance since returning from his first foreign trip. The president paid tribute to America’s fallen service members as “angels sent to us by God.”

“To every Gold Star family, God is with you, and your loved ones are with him,” Mr. Trump said. “They died in wars so that we could live in peace. Every time you see the sun rise over this blessed land, please know your brave sons and daughters pushed away the night and delivered for us all that great and glorious dawn.”

SEE ALSO: 98 percent of Republican military veterans approve of Trump: Poll

He paid special tribute to three Gold Star families who lost loved ones in Afghanistan, including Mr. Kelly, whose Marine son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

“They all share one title — and that is the title of ‘hero.’ Their legacy will endure forever,” Mr. Trump said.

The president also cited Spec. Christopher Horton, killed in a firefight with insurgents in Afghanistan in 2011, and Maj. Andrew Byers, a member of the Green Berets who died in battle against the Taliban in 2016.

“Chris sacrificed his life to protect his fellow soldiers and to protect all Americans,” Mr. Trump said. He told Mr. Horton’s widow, Jane, “America grieves with you.”

The president said Maj. Byers was killed braving gunfire to save fellow soldiers, and he told the soldier’s parents, “We stand in awe of your son and his courageous sacrifice.”

Mr. Trump is facing a decision soon whether to approve the Pentagon’s recommendation to send another 5,000 troops to Afghanistan. The current U.S. force of about 9,000 is assisting Afghan security forces and waging counterterrorism operations. President Barack Obama initially had planned to withdraw all U.S. troops by early this year, but decided against the move as the Taliban and other Islamist militias have made gains.

The president also praised the heroism of troops deployed on counterterrorism missions.

“Today a new generation of American patriots are fighting to win the battle against terrorism, risking their lives to protect our citizens from an enemy that uses the murder of innocents to wage war on humanity itself,” he said.

After his speech, Mr. Trump stopped his motorcade at Section 60 in the cemetery, which holds the graves of 890 soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. There he met with families of the fallen and carried a bouquet of flowers to the grave of 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly.

The president and Vice President Mike Pence stood with the Kelly family at the grave for several moments, chatting in reverence while onlookers remained silent. As the president departed the grave site, some families broke into applause.

Among those in attendance were Defense Secretary James Mattis, Mr. Pence and former Sens. Bob and Elizabeth Dole. Mr. Dole, a veteran of World War II, will turn 94 in a few weeks.

Mr. Mattis, a retired Marine general like Mr. Kelly, told Gold Star families that the “fighting spirit” of their loved ones persists.

“Passed down through the ranks, their spirit echoes in those who serve today, in the air, on land and at sea,” Mr. Mattis said. “To the families of the fallen, both here and at home, no words will ease your pain. But I beg you, let it have meaning. Unite your sorrow to their awesome purpose.”

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