ARLINGTON, Virginia On his last Memorial Day as president, Mr. Obama laid a wreath Monday at the Tomb of the Unknowns to honor members of the military who died serving their country.
His appearance at Arlington National Cemetery carries on a longstanding presidential tradition and comes as the U.S. struggles to end various conflicts in the Middle East. In his remarks, the president referred to those laid to rest at Arlington and their families "the best of us," and he called on Americans to honor the fallen by caring for those they leave behind - their families and their battle buddies who come home. "We need to be there not just when we need them, but when they need us," Mr. Obama said of the nation's veterans.
About 6,000 people attended the ceremony, according to a public affairs officer at the amphitheater.
Mr. Obama said 20 members of the armed forces had died in combat within the last year. Special operations forces continue to serve in dangerous missions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, even as the U.S. military presence in the latter two countries has been greatly reduced under President Obama's watch. The focus in Iraq and Syria is on defeating the Islamic State group. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops work with Afghan forces battling the Taliban.
Monday morning, the president held a breakfast reception at the White House for family members of fallen service members and veterans groups.
In his Saturday weekly address, Mr. Obama commemorated the service of fallen soldiers and urged Americans to engage in acts of remembrance over the weekend, including a plea to "hire a veteran who is ready and willing to serve at home just as they did abroad."