Memorial Day: Obama says we are at a 'pivotal moment' in Afghanistan

Memorial Day: President Barack Obama honored past and present soldiers on Memorial Day, first surprising US troops in Afghanistan, then laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

Susan Walsh/AP
President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 26.

President Barack Obama declared Monday that the United States has reached "a pivotal moment" in Afghanistan, with the end of war approaching by year's end.

Obama, who returned just hours earlier from a surprise visit with US troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, paid tribute to those lost in battle there and elsewhere over history as he commemorated Memorial Day.

The president called America's fallen soldiers "patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice" for their country. And he made a fleeting reference to the widening scandal involving reports of poor performance by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is facing allegations of delayed treatments at hospitals, and even deaths in Arizona. Obama said the country owes it to its veterans the care they need.

The president was joined by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, at the solemn ceremony across the Potomac River from White House on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The remembrance was for the war heroes of yesteryear as well as servicemen and women stationed around the world.

Preceding Obama to the microphone, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, himself a military veteran, noted this year's remembrance came with the approaching 70th anniversary of America's D-Day landing in Normandy, France during World War II.

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