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Memorial Day 2013: Barack Obama pays tribute to America’s fallen from Arlington National Cemetery

President Barack Obama has paid tribute to America’s fallen soldiers in a moving Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery – as he urged the nation not to forget the thousands of troops still protecting the country.

“Let us never forgot to always remember the sacrifice they make in our name,” Barack Obama said in his Memorial Day address at the final resting place for many of America’s war heroes.

“Today most Americans are not directly touched by war, as a consequence not all Americans may always fully grasp the depths of sacrifice – the profound costs that are made in our name,” the president said.

“Our troops, our military families understand this and they mention to me whether the country fully appreciates what is happening. Let us never forget that our nation is still at war.”

President Barack Obama suggested fewer people are today touched by war due to the all-volunteer military force and advanced technology that allows the U.S. to accomplish some missions with far fewer personnel.

But he reminded the nation not to forget the 60,000 troops who are still fighting in Afghanistan.

In his speech, Barack Obama said that Arlington National Cemetery “has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all … to preserve and protect the land that we love”.

He praised the character and selflessness that “beats in the hearts” of America’s troops.

Before his address, President Barack Obama honored the nation’s fallen military service members by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in a somber ceremony at the cemetery.

He rode by motorcade from the White House to the hallowed burial grounds in suburban Virginia on a sun-splashed, but cool spring holiday as cannon fire was heard in the distance.

Barack Obama has paid tribute to America's fallen soldiers in a moving Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery

Barack Obama has paid tribute to America’s fallen soldiers in a moving Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery

Surrounded by officials and families of service members, Barack Obama carried out the Memorial Day tradition before reflecting silently on the lives lost to battle as he held his hand held to his chest.

The president was joined by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, cemetery Executive Director Kathryn Condon and Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Army’s military district of Washington.

As Barack Obama attended the event at Arlington, families marked Memorial Day at cemeteries, memorials and monuments across the country.

The presentation came after First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a breakfast at the White House with “Gold Star” families of service members who have been killed.

The events come at a time when combat in Afghanistan approaches 12 years and the ranks of World War II veterans dwindles.

In one of several ceremonies honoring Americans killed in Afghanistan, the city of South Sioux City, Nebraska, planned to unveil a statue honoring Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara, a dog handler for the 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 was planned to honor 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, New York, who was killed on September 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 planned at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City.

The park is a tribute to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous speech calling for all people to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

In Atlanta, a dedication of the History Center’s redone Veterans Park was scheduled for early evening. Soil from major battlefields will be scattered by veterans around the park’s flagpole.

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.

The holiday weekend also marked the traditional start of the U.S. vacation season. AAA, one of the nation’s largest leisure travel agencies, expected 31.2 million Americans to hit the road over the weekend, virtually the same number as last year.

Gas prices were about the same as last year, up 1 cent to a national average of $3.65 a gallon Friday.

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