U.S. President Joe Biden marked the country’s Memorial Day on Monday, saying that Americans “must never forget the price” paid by military service members who were killed fighting battles abroad.
“They laid down their lives to protect the idea of the United States of America, that people can live in a free democracy,” Biden said at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.
Beforehand, he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to mark the country’s 155th observation of Memorial Day.
The president said the country has many obligations, but especially “to those who serve (in the military) and to their families when they don’t come home” after being killed in foreign battles.
He paid tribute to all the fallen, while citing the pain he said he still feels over the death eight years ago Tuesday of his son Beau, who died of brain cancer at 46 in the U.S. after serving with a National Guard unit in Iraq. The president has often said he believes his son’s health was affected there by toxic fumes from a military burn pit.
“God bless all those who died so that our nation might live,” Biden said.
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The Memorial Day holiday was first widely observed in 1868 as the country recovered from the Civil War. It became a federal holiday more than a century later in 1971, always marked on the last Monday in May.
Since the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, over 646,000 American troops have died in battle, while over 539,000 died from other non-combat related causes, Military.com reported in 2020.
While some observations of Memorial Day, particularly in and around Washington, are marked by solemnity, many Americans spend the unofficial start to summer celebrating over the weekend with barbecues and trips to beaches.
More than 42 million Americans were expected to travel over the weekend, according to the travel organization AAA, marking what was expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, when AAA started tracking holiday travel.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg held a news conference last week about Memorial Day weekend, which he said would be "a test of the (air traffic) system."
Last year, thousands of flights were canceled or delayed over Memorial Day weekend, but travel has largely been snafu-free so far this weekend ahead of the return home for many travelers.
"More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation. This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA.