As he presided over his final Veterans Day ceremony as commander-in-chief, U.S. President Barack Obama thanked the country’s former service members for preserving America’s democratic electoral process, a reference to Donald Trump’s stunning presidential victory after a contentious campaign.
“Veterans Day often follows a hard fought political campaign, an exercise in the free speech and self-government that you fought for. It often lays bare disagreements across our nation,” Obama said.
WATCH: Obama at National Cemetery
Obama’s remarks came Friday morning at Arlington National Cemetery, just south of the capital city of Washington, as the U.S. honors its nearly 22 million veterans.
The president participated in a full honor wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument dedicated to unidentified military service members who sacrificed their lives.
During the somber event, Obama faced the wreath as he stood at attention, with his right hand placed on his heart, as ‘Taps’, a traditional military bugle call, was played.
The president hosted a White House breakfast earlier Friday morning for veterans and their families.
Bill Mohr, a 108-year-old World War II veteran, was among those who attended the annual breakfast. Mohr, who lives in the northeastern city of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, was an army sergeant with the 45th Infantry Division. His daughter said Mohr participated in Operation Dragoon in France and was among those who marched into Germany to liberate the Dachau concentration camp.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said he is spending Veterans Day focusing on the formation of a new administration. In a tweet posted Friday morning, Trump said "very important" decisions about who will help him govern will soon be announced.
Origin of holiday
Service members are honored annually on Veterans Day, November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I. It was originally proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson as Armistice Day in 1919 and became a U.S. federal holiday in 1938. President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill in 1954 that changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day so that all veterans could be honored.
Of the 21.7 million veterans in the U.S., 4.3 million receive some form of disability compensation from the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly 530,000 veterans are classified as 100 percent disabled. Nearly 300,000 veterans receive pensions from the federal government.
Madeline Fucile, 96, of Centerville, Mass., left, visits the grave of her husband World War II U.S. Navy veteran Dominic Fucile, accompanied by her friend Beverly Donheiser, of Cotuit, Mass., right, in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass.
There are about 40,000 veterans who are spending this Veterans Day without a home to live in, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. The group estimates another 1.4 million veterans are at risk of being homeless.
The Department of Veterans Affairs encourages people to donate to regional Veterans Administration hospitals or volunteer by registering on its Voluntary Service page.
The U.S. Department of Labor helps match employers with qualified veterans. Details are available at https://www.dol.gov/vets/.