Obama preaches unity, wants U.S. to move on

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Greg Jaffe The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted.

AR­LING­TON, Va. — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama laid a wreath in Ar­ling­ton Ceme­tery on Fri­day and used his fi­nal Vet­er­ans Day speech to de­liver a plea for unity and to urge Amer­i­cans to set aside po­lit­i­cal griev­ances and fol­low the ex­am­ple of those who fight the coun­try’s wars.

“We can prac­tice kind­ness, we can pay it for­ward, we can vol­un­teer, and we can serve,” Obama said. “We can re­spect one an­other. We can al­ways get each other’s backs. That is what Vet­er­ans Day asks all of us to think about.”

As Obama stepped to the pres­i­den­tial lectern, he was wel­comed with a long ova­tion.

The pres­i­dent praised vet­er­ans for their quiet and self­less ser­vice, but the fo­cus of his re­marks was on the need for the coun­try to re­cover from a bruis­ing elec­tion cam­paign.

Obama noted that the U.S. mil­i­tary is the coun­try’s most di­verse in­sti­tu­tion, com­pris­ing im­mi­grants and na­tive-born ser­vice mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing all re­li­gions and no re­li­gion. He said they are all “forged into com­mon ser­vice.”

The pres­i­dent re­ferred in the most gen­eral way to the bit­ter elec­tion cam­paign to re­place him, which was marred by ac­cu­sa­tions Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­fended his record on vet­er­ans af­fairs af­ter lay­ing a wreath at the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery on Vet­er­ans Day. of racism, sex­ism and anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment.

“Vet­er­ans Day of­ten fol­lows a hard-fought po­lit­i­cal cam­paign,” he said.

But, the pres­i­dent did not revis- it the slights of the cam­paign trail, fo­cus­ing in­stead on the “the Amer­i­can in­stinct ... to find strength in our com­mon creed, to forge unity from our great di­ver­sity.”

“We can show how much we love our coun­try by lov­ing our neigh­bors as our­selves,” Obama said.

The pres­i­dent de­fended his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s record on vet- er­ans is­sues, not­ing that he had in­creased funding for the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs by 85 per­cent over the course of his two terms in of­fice, im­proved ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices and cut vet­eran home­less­ness in half.

He urged his suc­ces­sor to con­tinue work on the tragedy of vet­eran sui­cides, which claims 20 lives a day, and to re­sist calls to out­source and pri­va­tize the VA.

With just two months left in his term, Obama noted how he’s aged over the past eight years.

He read ex­cerpts from an es­say by a mid­dle-schooler who wrote that vet­er­ans are spe­cial be­cause they will de­fend peo­ple re­gard­less of their race, gen­der, hair color or other dif­fer­ences.

“Af­ter eight years in of­fice, I par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ate that he in­cluded hair color,” Obama quipped. Obama then said that “when­ever the world makes you cyn­i­cal, when­ever you doubt that courage and good­ness and self­less­ness is pos­si­ble, then stop and look to a vet­eran.”

Be­fore speak­ing, the pres­i­dent laid a wreath at the ceme­tery’s Tomb of the Un­knowns. He bowed his head in silent trib­ute be­fore a bu­gler played taps.

Ear­lier, Obama held a break­fast re­cep­tion at the White House with vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies.

ALEX WONG/GETTY

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