Obama marks first Memorial Day after end of combat in Afghanistan

President Obama marked an "especially meaningful" Memorial Day Monday, honoring American service members who had died in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of September 11, 2001.

"For many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful; it is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end. Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years when the United States is not engaged in a major ground war," the president said during remarks at Arlington National Cemetery.

He also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

President Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia May 25, 2015.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The president told the story of Wyatt Martin and Ramon Morris, the last two Americans who died during the combat mission in Afghanistan that came to a close at the end of 2014. He said they were "bonded together to secure our liberty, to keep us safe."

"This hallowed ground is more than the final resting place of heroes. It is a reflection of America itself. It's a reflection of our history, the wars we've waged for democracy, the peace we've laid to preserve it. It's a reflection of our diversity, men and women of all backgrounds, all races and creeds and circumstances and faiths, willing to die for the ideals that bind us as one nation," Mr. Obama said.

His speech also recalled the men and women who fought and died in other wars throughout American history from the Revolutionary War to World War II. He acknowledged the caretakers at Arlington National Cemetery, the sentinels who stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the gold star families who lost a relative at war.

"Each simple stone marker, arranged in perfect military precision, signifies the cost of our blessings. It is a debt we can never fully repay. But it is a debt we will never stop trying to fully repay," Mr. Obama said. "By remaining a nation worthy of their sacrifice, by living our own lives the way the fallen lived theirs, a testament that greater love has no other than this, than to lay down your life for your friends. We are so grateful for them. We are so grateful for the families of our fallen."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for