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By AAMER MADHANI and REBECCA SANTANA (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden lauded the sacrifice of generations of U.S. troops who “dared all and gave all” fighting for their country and called on Americans to ensure that their “sacrifice was not in vain” as he marked Memorial Day with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
Biden was joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, for the 155th National Memorial Day Observance. He had a moment of contemplation in front of the wreath, which was adorned with flowers and a red, white and blue bow, and then bowed his head in prayer.
“We must never forget the price that was paid to protect our democracy,” Biden said later in an address at the Memorial Amphitheater. “We must never forget the lives these flags, flowers and marble markers represent.”
”Every year we remember,” he said. “And every year it never gets easier.”
Monday’s federal holiday honoring America’s fallen service members came a day after Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached final agreement on a deal that would raise America’s debt limit and that now awaits approval by Congress.
As it stands, the agreement would keep nondefense spending roughly flat in the 2024 fiscal year and increase it by 1% the following year. The measure would allow for 3% defense growth in fiscal 2024, to $886 billion, and then another 1% in fiscal 2025, to $895 billion.
Biden has taken pride that his Democratic administration has overseen a time of relative peace for the U.S. military after two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s been nearly 21 months since Biden ended the United States’ longest war in Afghanistan, making good on a campaign promise to end a 20-year-old “forever war” that cost the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members.
The war in Afghanistan, however, ended in chaotic and deadly fashion on Biden’s watch in August 2021 with critics blasting the administration’s handling of the evacuation of some 120,000 American citizens, Afghans and others as poorly planned and badly executed.
The Biden administration last month released a review of the last days of the war, largely blaming his Republican predecessor, President Donald Trump, and asserting that Biden was “severely constrained” by Trump’s decisions.
The U.S. now finds itself leading a coalition of allies pouring tens of billions of dollars in military and economic aid into Ukraine as it tries to repel the Russian invasion, which appears to have no end in sight.
While making clear that he has no desire for U.S. troops to enter the conflict, Biden has maintained that he sees the Russian effort to grab territory as an affront to international norms and has vowed to help Kyiv win, sending artillery, tanks and drones and recently agreeing to allow allies to train Ukrainian military on American F-16 jets.
Biden connected the sacrifices of some 400,000 Americans buried at Arlington to the work of U.S. troops deployed around the world today, saying the impact of the fallen men and women “goes far beyond those silent stones” of the solemn burial ground.
“We see the strength of our NATO alliance built from the bonds that were forged in the fires of two World Wars,” Biden said. “We see it in the troops still standing sentinel on the Korean Peninsula, preserving the peace side by side with allies. We see it in every base, every barrack, every vessel around the globe where our military proudly serves and stands as a force for good in the world.”
During the Arlington ceremony, Biden also spoke of the need to care for U.S. service members on and off the battlefield.
“We have only one truly sacred obligation: to prepare those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home and when they don’t,” Biden said.
The president noted legislation he had signed expanding federal health care services for millions of veterans who served at military bases where toxic smoke billowed from huge burn pits, commonly used by the military until several years ago to dispose of chemicals, tires, plastics and medical and human waste.
Before Monday’s ceremony at the Arlington, Virginia, cemetery, the Bidens hosted a breakfast at the White House for members of veterans organizations, military service and military family organizations, surviving families of fallen U.S. troops, senior Department of Defense officials and other administration officials.
The president and the first lady were scheduled to return to their home near Wilmington, Delaware, later Monday to spend the rest of the federal holiday.
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