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Obama salutes Fort Hood victims, promises justice

FORT HOOD, Texas — Sketching out lives that ended too soon, President Barack Obama remembered those slain at Fort Hood as husbands and fathers, immigrants and scholars, optimists and patriots — an expectant mother, a granddaughter of veterans, a music teacher.

Just below his speaking platform Tuesday, before thousands of mourners, the dead were remembered in a traditional Army way: 13 pairs of combat boots, each with an inverted rifle topped with a helmet. A picture of each person rested below the boots.

"Neither this country, nor the values that we were founded upon, could exist without men and women like these 13 Americans," Obama told the throng. "And that is why we must pay tribute to their stories."

He had words, as well, for a nation demanding answers for Thursday's massacre at the Army post. He spoke forcefully if indirectly of the alleged shooter's motives, never mentioning Maj. Nidal Hasan by name.

"It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy," Obama said. "But this much we do know: No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts."

It was an apparent reference to reports that Hasan had communicated with a radical Islamic imam. A vast investigation is under way, including questions about what the government knew about Hasan and whether action should have been taken.

The president's remarks at a memorial service were personal, more about how the victims lived than how they died.

He talked about Pvt. Michael Pearson's love of music, Maj. Eduardo Caraveo's journey to America as a teenager, Pvt. Francheska Velkez's excitement about becoming a mother, Capt. John Gaffaney's two decades as a psychiatric nurse — and so on through the honor roll of 10 men, three women.

He spent more time meeting privately with the wounded and with loved ones of those killed than speaking in public.

His tone stern, Obama pledged to the crowd that "the killer will be met with justice — in this world, and the next."

On a steamy Texas day, Obama stepped into a scene filled with military resolve and tender moments. Soldiers helped wounded friends to their seats. A girl in a black dress and shiny shoes clutched her mother's hand as hurting families streamed in.

Some 15,000 gathered on a field for the ceremony. Riflemen fired a last salute. A bugler played taps.

After the ceremony, Obama walked solemnly along the row of boots, placing a commander-in-chief's coin next to each victim's photo in tribute. Then soldiers and loved ones traced the same path and give a final salute.

Obama, in his public remarks, spoke of the tranquility and liberty enjoyed by most Americans, and said the 13 fallen gave their lives for it.

"That is their legacy," he said.

As much as the president made the moment about the gunman's victims, the ceremony also was about him. Presidents inevitably must take the lead in times of tragedy, and this was Obama's moment to offer himself as consoler in chief.

About the victims and the soldiers who rushed to help them, Obama said, "We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes."

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama devoted considerable time to three private meetings with those affected by the shooting rampage, meeting first with families of those killed, then with some of those wounded and their families, and later with those still hospitalized.

"Just the president being here was a great morale booster to show the country he was here for the families," said Ronald Fiveash, a sailor whose brother was shot four times but survived.

Sheila Wormuth, whose husband is stationed at Fort Hood, came with her 3-year-old daughter to show their support. While her husband wasn't at the shooting site, she said, "what happens to my husband's brothers and sisters happens to us."

15 victims still hospitalized

Fifteen of the 29 people wounded in last week's shooting rampage remain hospitalized. A statement issued by Fort Hood Tuesday said three are in intensive care and 12 others have been moved to recovery rooms.

Military challenge coins' special duty

Military challenge coins, like the commander-in-chief's coin President Obama placed next to each victim's photo, are also known as military coins, unit coins, memorial coins, unit challenge coins or commander's coin. The coin represents affiliation, support or patronage to the organization minted on the coin. Commanders use specially minted military coins to improve morale, foster unit esprit and honor service members for their hard work.


Obama salutes Fort Hood victims, promises justice 11/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:55pm]
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