WASHINGTON, May 25 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama marked Memorial Day by paying tribute to American soldiers who died in battle and highlighting the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan during his annual speech at Arlington National Cemetery.
Obama, noting it was the first Memorial Day in a decade that the U.S. was not "engaged in a major ground war," said soldiers "still stand watch, still serve and still sacrifice around the world."
"Several years ago, we had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. We'll continue to bring them home, and reduce our forces further down to an embassy presence by the end of next year, but Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place. As so many families know, our troops continue to risk their lives for us," he said.
During his address Monday, Obama highlighted Army Specialist Wyatt Martin and Sergeant First Class Ramon Morris, the last two American soldiers who died in Afghanistan. He also placed the traditional wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Like generations of heroes before them, these Americans gave everything they had—not for glory, not even for gratitude, but for something greater than themselves," he said. "But we are the Americans they died to defend. So what we can do—what we must do—is fulfill our sacred obligations to them, just like they fulfilled theirs to us. We have to honor their memory."
He also added that many Americans don't fully understand the sacrifices the military makes for the country.
"Few know what it's like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you," he said
Following Obama's statement, the National Memorial Day parade was expected to kickoff at 2 p.m. to not only commemorate those who served in the military but also the 10th anniversary of the National Memorial Day Parade, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.