WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is paying tribute to the nation’s fallen warriors on Memorial Day, attending a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and honoring those who died during the Vietnam War.
The president was to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, and then marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
In an election year, Obama has touted his work to bring U.S. combat troops home from Iraq and wind down the conflict in Afghanistan. Before military audiences and in a campaign ad released last week, he credits U.S. servicemen who helped in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
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With so many troops returning home from their service, Obama says the U.S. needs to return the favor.
“We have to serve them and their families as well as they have served us,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “By making sure that they get the health care and benefits they need; by caring for our wounded warriors and supporting our military families; and by giving veterans the chance to go to college, find a good job and enjoy the freedom that they risked everything to protect.”
The White House said the gathering at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial War would mark the beginning of a 13-year program to honor those who served during the Vietnam War.
Veterans could play a significant role in the 2012 election. Exit polls in 2008 showed that Obama was supported by about 44 percent of voters who said they served in the military, while 54 percent voted for John McCain, a former Navy pilot who was a prisoner of war for more than five years during the Vietnam War.
Republican Mitt Romney was scheduled to appear Monday with McCain in San Diego, home to a large number of military personnel and veterans. Romney has made the case that too many veterans are returning home to poor job prospects, casting blame on Obama’s economic policies.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics report in March found that 12.1 percent of U.S. Armed Forces veterans who served on active duty after September 2001 were unemployed in 2011. The unemployment rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent.
Several closely watched states in the election have large blocs of military voters. Florida, home to several military installations, has more than 1.6 million veterans, according to the Veterans Administration. Pennsylvania has nearly 1 million veterans, while Virginia and North Carolina each have about 800,000 veterans living in their states.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama were starting the day with a breakfast at the White House for families who have lost loved ones in combat.
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