Vice President Mike Pence on Monday marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and honoring fallen United States military service members, saying “this is the day that makes possible all other American days.”
“Heroic Americans have answered their nation’s call and paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Pence said of those who died while serving in the military. “Their duty was to serve. Our duty is to remember.”
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Pence was joined at Arlington by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
“Today’s generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are following the footsteps of an unending line of Americans who’ve answered the call to duty,” Dunford said at the amphitheater service. “As we pause to remember the fallen, please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.”
Speakers offered their support to the survivors of the fallen. “To those they leave behind: beloved spouses, children, family, and friends, we know not a day passes you don’t think of them,” Shanahan said. “Today, millions of your fellow Americans remember with you. Let them celebrate the life of your hero with you, they are here for you.”
During his speech, Pence singled out two notable guests in attendance: former Republican Sen. Robert Dole, a World War II veteran, and his wife, Elizabeth. “We are actually joined today by two leaders who have quite possibly done more to honor the memory of our fallen and support their families than any other living Americans,” Pence said of the Doles, as the crowd delivered a standing ovation.
The vice president said more than 40 million have served in the uniform of the United States military, and nearly 1 million Americans have died in service since the nation’s founding. Pence spoke of the “lives of promise cut short, of dreams unfulfilled, of families shattered.”
“Americans of every race and creed have fought and died for our freedom,” he said.
Presidents typically lay a wreath and deliver remarks at the cemetery but President Trump is traveling in Japan for a state visit during the Memorial Day holiday. On Monday, the president released a video on Twitter of a recent visit with first lady Melania Trump to the national cemetery.
Every Thursday before the holiday, members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or the Old Guard, honor the nation’s fallen heroes by placing American flags at each service member’s headstone. Trump and the first lady each placed three flags at three headstones after making a quiet trip to the hallowed burial ground last week.
Later Monday, the president is expected to address American troops aboard the USS Wasp at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. But Pence said he spoke with the president before the observance ceremony.
“And I know his heart is here with all of you and with families across this nation for whom every day is Memorial Day,” Pence said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.