ARLINGTON, Va. — On a cold, rain-soaked Veterans Day, President Barack Obama walked slowly through the white, stone markers at the section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two wars he oversees as commander in chief.
Obama led the nation Wednesday in observing Veterans Day with a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington.
"We gather here mindful that the generation serving today already deserves a place alongside previous generations for the courage they have shown and the sacrifices that they have made," Obama said in a brief speech following the wreath-laying. Obama said he would do right by veterans and families, saying: "America will not let you down."
"To all of them — to our veterans, to the fallen and to their families — there is no tribute, no commemoration, no praise that can truly match the magnitude of your service and your sacrifice," he said.
Obama walked through Arlington's Section 60, where fallen troops from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. The president stopped at the grave of Spc. Ross McGinnis, a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in Iraq, before he and first lady Michelle Obama walked through the rows of white headstones marking the fallen, the first president to do so while in office, according to cemetery staff.
Under light rain, the Obamas shook hands and embraced surprised family members there to pay their respects, pausing to speak with them briefly beside their loved ones' graves.
Prior to traveling to Arlington, the president and first lady, along with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, hosted a Veterans Day breakfast at the White House. The Bidens later hosted a lunch at the Naval Observatory for veterans, active duty service members and their families.
The nation observed Veterans Day from remembrances at the nation's capital to a New York City parade to ceremonies in towns and cities across the nation and overseas.
An American Red Cross event in Washington kicked off the start of a program called Holiday Mail for Heroes, which lets the public send holiday greeting cards that aren't addressed to a particular service member.
Under a Defense Department policy, ordinary mail addressed to "any soldier" has to be returned to the sender. The cards will be screened, sorted and distributed to military hospitals and bases nationally and overseas as well as to veterans and military family members.