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To returning troops, aid is pledged

Obama vows help as Afghan mission nears completion

Visitors arrived early Monday, Veterans Day, at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.

J. David Ake /Associated Press

Visitors arrived early Monday, Veterans Day, at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.

WASHINGTON — President Obama pledged Monday that Americans “will never forget” the sacrifices made by the country’s military veterans and promised that his administration would continue pushing for money to support the men and women home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Obama declared that the nation’s most recent “chapter of war is coming to an end.” But he said that Americans must not let the service of the military fade from memory.

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“By this time next year, the transition to Afghan-led security will be nearly complete,” he said. “The longest war in American history will end.”

But he said that “there’s a risk that the devoted service of our veterans could fade from the forefront of our minds,” adding that “our time of service to our newest veterans has just begun.”

In his first Veterans Day remarks as president in 2009, Obama faced a very different situation in Afghanistan, where top military officials were pressing for a US troop escalation to confront a surging enemy.

Three weeks later, Obama announced that he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to the country, bringing the total number of US forces in Afghanistan to more than 100,000.

On Monday, the president said that in a year’s time Afghan forces will have largely taken over the responsibility of securing their country.

“We will never forget the profound sacrifices that are made in our name,” Obama said, pledging that the returning troops will be the “best cared for, best treated, best respected veterans in the world.”

The president hailed veterans of previous wars and the history of American sacrifice in such places as Lexington, Gettysburg, Korea, Vietnam, and the beaches of Europe.

“We join as one people to honor a debt we can never fully repay,” he said. “There are those who stand apart. They step up, they raise their hands, they take the oath, they put on the uniform, and they put their lives on the line.”

Obama singled out Richard Overton, an Army veteran who is now 107 years old. Overton attended the Arlington ceremony, listening as the president described his service in World War II and his return home.

Overton rose slowly and stood to loud applause when Obama mentioned his name, then stood a second time at the president’s request and drew more applause.

He was among hundreds attending the outdoor ceremony on a crisp, sunny Veterans Day. Earlier Monday, Overton and other veterans attended a breakfast at the White House.

In New York, the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks surfaced at the city’s Veterans Day parade, with families of World Trade Center victims carrying a giant American flag along Fifth Avenue amid shouts of ‘‘Don’t forget 9/11.’’

‘‘When I was first elected mayor, there was still smoke rising from the World Trade Center site,’’ Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a pre-parade ceremony. ‘‘And that was a very difficult time, when men and women in the armed forces were stepping up to confront new threats to ensure our safety.’’

Organizers called the New York celebration the nation’s largest Veterans Day event.

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