In a speech shortly afterward in which he saluted those veterans who "paid the ultimate price" for freedom, the president announced that the remains of two servicemen who fought in the Korean War were repatriated Monday morning from North Korea.
Mr. Clinton paid special tribute to the 1.8 million women who have served in the armed forces and to the nation's integrated troops who "set a shining example of how well different groups can work together as one."
"Thanks to these heroes," the president said, "our nation over 220 years has grown into something truly extraordinary."
Mr. Clinton said the story of the nation's history is "written on these stones." In his words, "All the stones standing together are the enduring monument to our greatness and eternal promise."
The president made special mention of the Tomb of the Unknowns, where he once again laid a wreath. Nearly two weeks ago, the remains of a Vietnam veteran were removed to allow DNA experts to determine if they can be identified. Mr. Clinton said it was a chance to "bring comfort" to a family.
The Arlington cemetery also is at the center of a controversy over whether Supreme Court justices who have served in the military can be buried there. In the past, exceptions have been made for such justices, but they would now be excluded under a bill in Congress that restricts Arlington burials to only the most highly decorated veterans.
Throughout the cemetery Monday were signs of a nation honoring its war dead. The U.S. military traditionally places the flags on all the graves in the national cemetery on Memorial Day each year.
On Friday, Mr. Clinton saluted the dedication of America's servicemen and women in a speech to Naval Academy graduates. He said, "Our defense has always drawn on the best of our entire nation."