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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Veterans Day Commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, VA
November 11, 2021

Thanks, Alan [Paley], for that kind introduction, for your service to our country, and for leading today’s fantastic host organization: Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America.  

Mr. President, welcome. My deepest thanks to you and the First Lady for being here. We are forever grateful for your leadership, and for your unwavering support of our Nation’s Veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers.

Let me also acknowledge the distinguished leaders from the Cabinet, Congress, VA, Veteran Service Organizations, Veteran Family and Caregiver Advocacy Organizations, and our Veterans Day National Committee. It’s great to be here with you.

Most of all, thanks to the Veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers with us this morning.  

This day is your day, and it’s an honor to spend it with you.

Each year, America pauses on November 11 to remember and recognize those men and women who fought our nation’s wars and defended us during periods of restless peace.

From the beginning of our fight for independence at Lexington and Concord to the end of the longest war in American history in Afghanistan, millions of Veterans have risked their lives to preserve the democratic ideals of this great nation.

We live in peace and prosperity today because of them.

On this day, we must not only appreciate those great blessings, and the Vets who delivered them—we must also remember the terrible cost at which they came.

Veterans have told us of the costs of war throughout history.

In letters home from World War II, Captain George Montgomery of the 82nd Airborne Division described his experience on D-Day, writing, “I never in my wildest dreams knew such terror could grip your very soul.”

Senator Max Cleland—an indefatigable patriot, hero of the war in Vietnam, and the father of the modern VA, who passed away earlier this week—echoed that sentiment, writing that “war is as close to hell on earth as anything ever could be.”

Sentiments like these have been expressed by Veterans of every conflict—those who bore the bloody battles of the American Civil War, the hellish trenches of the First World War, the frozen mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, and the cities, deserts, and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many servicemembers gave their last full measure of devotion during those wars, some of whom now rest on the hallowed grounds of this cemetery, or in the tomb of the unknown soldier—which, as of today, has stood for 100 years.

Other brave servicemembers came home as Veterans.

But for those Veterans, those wars did not end when the final bullet was fired, nor when the final servicemember came home. Instead, those wars live on—in their minds and bodies, in scars visible and invisible... sometimes for years, sometimes forever.

This day, Veterans Day, is a day to honor the Vets who made those sacrifices. A day to remember what they’ve done for us. A day to recognize that when those Veterans serve and sacrifice, so do their families, survivors, and caregivers.

But—critically—Veterans Day is also a call to action. A reminder that it is our sacred responsibility as Americans to serve those who have served our country.

That call-to-action dates all the way back to President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, when he charged a wounded nation to care for those “who shall have borne the battle,” and for their families, survivors, and caregivers. And that same call echoes into today, when President Biden reminds us that our nation’s “most sacred obligation” is to prepare and equip the troops we send into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home.

At VA, that means providing Veterans with world-class health care; with the benefits they have earned and so rightly deserve; with a lasting resting place that is a tribute to their service.

And, with President Biden’s help, VA is doing exactly that—providing more care and more benefits to more Veterans than at any other time in our nation’s history.

But this day reminds us that it is not just the job of VA to serve Veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers.  It’s the job of every American.

Because whenever someone signs up to serve our country in the military, our nation makes them a simple promise:

If you take care of us, we will take care of you.

If you fight for us, we will fight for you.

If you serve us, we will serve you when you come home.

The thing is, our nation as a whole makes that promise. But it is on all of us, every one of us, to keep that promise.

There are many ways to do that—from reaching out to the Veterans in your life; to lending Veterans a hand when they need it; to doing your small part to uphold the principles of democracy for which Veterans have fought and bled to defend.

Whatever the method, serve Veterans and serve them well. Remember their sacrifices, recognize their service, and recommit and renew your pledge to them.

Because that is our most sacred responsibility as Americans, on this Veterans Day and every day.

I know of nobody who keeps that promise better than President Biden.

As a Senator, as Vice President, and now as President—and as the surviving father of an Iraq War Veteran—President Biden has dedicated so much of his life to serving those who have served us.

Veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers could not ask for a stronger advocate than him.

And so, without further ado, it is my great personal and professional honor to present to you our Commander-in-Chief—the President of the United States of America—Joe Biden.