Trump’s remarks at the wreath-laying ceremony marked his first comments in public since returning to the United States from his nine-day trip abroad.
Trump sent out several tweets Monday morning in advance of his visit, including: “Honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to America. Home of the free, because of the brave. #MemorialDay.”
Trump first placed a wreath in Arlington at the Tomb of the Unknowns a day ahead of his inauguration. At the time, he did so alongside Vice President Mike Pence, who joined Trump Monday morning.
Earlier Monday, Pence, his wife and second lady Karen Pence, and Veterans‘ Affairs Secretary David Shulkin spoke at the kickoff of a bike race for Project Hero, an organization for veterans and first responders.
“It is Memorial Day 2017,” Pence said. “Their duty was to serve. Our duty is to remember.”
The president gave his first Memorial Day address, after laying the wreath, like so many presidents before him, as part of the ceremony to remember, and honor, the men and women who died fighting for the United States of America.
“Thank you for joining us as we honor the brave warriors who gave their lives for ours–Spending their last moments on this earth in defense of this great country and its people,” Trump said. “We only hope that every day we can prove worthy, not only of their sacrifice and service, but of the sacrifice made by their families and loved ones they left behind—special, special people.”
Trump went on to honor Homeland Security Secretary Gen. John Kelly’s fallen son, Robert, and the Kelly family.
“I especially want to extend our gratitude to Gen. Kelly for joining us today—an incredible man—I always call him general,” Trump said. “He understands more than most ever could, or ever will, the wounds and burdens of war.”
Robert Kelly, 29, was killed in a roadside bomb blast in 2010 during a foot patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmland Province.
“To the entire Kelly family, today, 300 million American hearts are joined together with you,” Trump said. “We grieve with you. We honor you and we pledge to you that we will always remember Robert and what he did for us.”
Trump honored Gold Star families calling their fallen loved ones “angels sent to us by God,” in his first public address since returning from his first trip overseas as commander-in-chief.
“They all share one title in common—and that is the title of ‘hero’—real heroes,” Trump said. “Though they were only here for a brief time before God called them home, their legacy will endure forever.”
Trump went on to honor former Sen. Bob Dole and his wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, and other Gold Star families and service men and women in the audience.
“While we cannot know the extent of your pain, what we do know is that our gratitude to them and to you is boundless and undying—will always be there, Thank you,” Trump said. “Their stories are now woven into the soul of our nation, into the stars and stripes on our flag, and into the beating hearts of our great, great people.”
Pence attended the ceremony with Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis, and Homeland Security Secretary Gen. John Kelly, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.
Before the president began his remarks, Dunford thanked fallen military men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“They were people who stood for something larger than themselves, people who understood what we have in our country is worth fighting for,” Dunford said, introducing Defense Secretary James Mattis.
“To the families of the fallen both here, and at home, no words will ease your pain, but I bet you, let it have meaning –unite your sorrow with their awesome purpose,” Mattis said.
Trump finished his first Memorial Day address by honoring the “unknown soldiers” who have lost their lives in service.
“Today we also hold a special vigil for heroes whose stories we cannot tell, because their names are known to God alone–the unknown soldiers,” Trump said. “We do not know where they came from, who they left behind, or what they hoped to be, but we do know what they did. They fought and they died in the great and noble act of loyalty and love to their families and to our country.”