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US Observes Memorial Day to Honor War Dead

Americans are pausing Monday to honor the country's war dead, as the United States observes its annual Memorial Day.

U.S. President Barack Obama is taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington, before giving an address remembering those who gave their lives for the country. Soldiers have placed American flags on more than 260,000 graves at the cemetery.

Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, also hosted a breakfast at the White House for families of the fallen.

Washington's commemoration of the holiday was marked Sunday by thousands of motorcycle riders roaring into the national capital, a Rolling Thunder rally aimed at calling attention to military prisoners of war and those still missing in action.

Elsewhere, communities across the country are remembering the war dead in a variety of ways, including one in New York recalling Women Air Service Pilots who tested aircraft during World War Two.

Mr. Obama used his weekly radio address Saturday to pay tribute to U.S. service members, saying the national holiday is a time to remember those who died so that Americans "could know peace and live in freedom."

He also called on the nation to care for the families of military members and ensure veterans get the health care and benefits they deserve.

The first large-scale observance of what was originally called Decoration Day took place at Arlington cemetery in 1868, three years after the bloody Civil War that killed more than 600,000 people.

Many Americans have the day off from work and school, and the three-day weekend is seen as the unofficial start of the summer vacation season. Many families have picnics or make trips to the beach, parks or campgrounds.