ARLINGTON, Va. (AP/The Blaze) -- President Barack Obama paid tribute Monday to the men and women who have died defending America, saying the country must strive "to be a nation worthy of your sacrifice."
He said the war in Iraq has ended after nine years and is "winding down" in Afghanistan. But he conceded that the pain of war lingers for the families of those lost in battle, noting mourners can be seen daily at Arlington National Cemetery daily, not just on Memorial Day.
"These 600 acres are home to Americans from every part of the country who gave their lives in every part of the globe," said the president, speaking under a brilliant sun before a large audience, including many uniformed servicemen and women, at the cemetery, after taking part in the traditional laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The president promised war veterans that "we will be there for you," to ensure that troops returning home from battle get the benefits they deserve.
Obama said sending troops into harm's way was "the most wrenching decision that I have to make. I can promise you I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary and that when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation."
Preceding Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that "all the men and women who rest here are a constant reminder that freedom is not free." He noted that some 6,400 men and women have died defending America since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Obama was traveling later Monday to the Vietnam War Memorial to give special recognition to the troops who served and died in that war.
In this election year, Obama has been reminding his audiences about the end of the war in Iraq and the move to bring all troops home from Afghanistan by 2014. In a campaign ad released last week, he credits U.S. servicemen who helped in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
With so many troops returning home from their service, Obama says the U.S. needs to return the favor.
"We have to serve them and their families as well as they have served us," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "By making sure that they get the health care and benefits they need; by caring for our wounded warriors and supporting our military families; and by giving veterans the chance to go to college, find a good job and enjoy the freedom that they risked everything to protect."
Republican Mitt Romney was scheduled to appear Monday with Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, in San Diego, home to a large number of military personnel and veterans. Romney has made the case that too many veterans are returning home to poor job prospects, casting blame on Obama's economic policies.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics report in March found that 12.1 percent of U.S. Armed Forces veterans who served on active duty after September 2001 were unemployed in 2011. The unemployment rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.