POSTED: Monday, May 28, 2012 - 12:30pm
UPDATED: Monday, May 28, 2012 - 12:34pm
NATIONAL NEWS (CNN) — Under a scorching morning sun, President Barack Obama laid a wreath to fallen U.S. warriors Monday at Arlington National Cemetery as part of Memorial Day ceremonies that will include the launch of a 13-year commemoration of the Vietnam War.
"On days like this, I take pride in the fact that this country has always been home to men and women willing to give of themselves until they had no more to give," Obama told a solemn ceremony following the wreath-laying.
He honored the fallen and pledged the full support of a grateful nation to returning veterans and their families.
"For the first time in nine years, Americans are not fighting and dying in Iraq," the president said to applause. "We are winding down the war in Afghanistan and our troops will continue to come home. After a decade under the dark cloud of war, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon."
Now the task is to remember those who died and "meet our obligations to those who did come home," Obama said, adding "America will be there for you."
Earlier, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mick Kicklighter paid tribute to the fallen at a separate ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington.
"At this site, we remember the 400,000 men and women who lost their lives defending our freedom during World War II some 70 years ago," he said. "Memorial Day remains a time of solemn observance as we remember and honor all of those who gave all their tomorrows. That's a very high price to pay when you're 18 and 19 years old. But they gave all their futures so that you and I could live in this strong, free and beautiful America. Freedom is not free."
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United States deploying a significant military presence in Vietnam. In 1962, the U.S. sent about 10,000 military advisers to join the 900 U.S. military advisers already in the country.
Obama will join Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial later Monday to kick off a 13-year effort by the Department of Defense to honor veterans of the conflict that divided the nation.
A proclamation signed Friday by Obama said the Vietnam 50th Anniversary Commemoration Program will continue until November 11, 2025, "to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced."
"While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor," the proclamation stated.
The first phase of the commemoration over the next two years involves generating support and participation, with a focus on "hometown" events providing personal recognition and thanks to Vietnam veterans, according to information provided to the media.
-- CNN's Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.