American Legion National Vice Commander James Holland made the trip from his Aiken, S. C., home to Washington for a series of Memorial Day events beginning with breakfast at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "It was my first time in the White House," Holland said, "and the breakfast was fantastic. It was a privilege to mingle with the hierarchy of our military such as Defense Secretary (Chuck) Hagel and a host of others from generals to Gold Star Mothers and to share the camaraderie."
Following breakfast, Holland traveled to Arlington National Cemetery’s ampitheater stage to hear President Barack Obama’s Memorial Day address.
"Beyond these quiet hills, beyond that special (Arlington Memorial) bridge, is a city of monuments dedicated to visionary leaders and singular moments in the life of our republic," Obama said "But, it is here, on this hallowed ground where we (chose) to build a monument to a constant thread in the American character — the truth that our nation endures because it has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all, and lay down their very lives, to preserve and protect this land that we love."
During his address, Obama alluded to the nation’s diminished public observance and appreciation of Memorial Day’s true nature today.
"During World War II," he said, "millions of Americans contributed to the war effort — soldiers like my own grandfather, women like my grandmother who worked the assembly lines. During the Vietnam War just about everybody knew somebody, a brother, a son, a friend, who served in harm’s way. Today, it’s different. Perhaps it’s a tribute to today’s remarkable all volunteer force made up of men and women who step forward to serve and do so with extraordinary skill and valor. Perhaps it’s a testament to our advanced technologies which allow smaller numbers of troops to wield greater and greater power. But regardless the reason, this truth cannot be ignored — that today, most Americans are not directly touched by war. As a consequence, not all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depths of sacrifice.
"On this Memorial Day, and every day…let it be our task, every single one of us, to honor the strength and the resolve and the love these brave Americans felt for each other and for our country. Let us never forget to always remember and to be worthy of the sacrifice they make in our name."
The annual Arlington ceremony included the president’s laying of a commemorative wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, followed by the placing of floral tributes by representatives from military and veterans’ organizations, including The American Legion.
As the observance drew to a close, Holland headed toward a personally significant place — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — to place a wreath on behalf of the Legion. Holland, a retired officer and veteran of the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam, reflected on the ultimate sacrifices of friends and comrades in from the war. "There are many names I know on this wall," he said. "Many names."