Steve Gonzalez, center, presents The American Legion's wreath to an honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Gonzalez is assistant director of the Legion's Veterans Employment and Education Division in Washington. (Photo by Marty Callaghan)

America’s veterans honored at Arlington

Robert Newman, national vice commander of The American Legion, attended a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery’s amphitheater, where President Barack Obama was the featured speaker. The American Legion also placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, presented by Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division.

During the ceremony, President Obama said that, because this year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1953 truce in Korea, “we pay special tribute to all those who served in the Korean War.” Paying tribute to America’s veterans from several wartime eras, the president focused on one World War II veteran present in the crowd: 107-year-old Army veteran Richard Overton.

Overton was stationed in the Hawaiian Islands when Japanese forces launched a surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base on Dec. 7, 1941. He saw combat in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, then headed back home to Texas after the war. He got married, built a house and went back to work in the furniture business.

“In time, he served as a courier in the Texas State Capitol,” Obama said, “where he worked for four governors and made more friends than most of us do in a lifetime.” Overton still lives in the house he built “all those years ago. He rakes his own lawn. And every Sunday, he hops in his 1971 Ford truck and drives one of the nice ladies in his neighborhood to church,” Obama said,

The crowd laughed and applauded.

Pointing to Overton, who stood in the box seats to the president’s right, Obama said “This is the life of one American veteran – living proud and strong in the land he helped keep free.... And we are honored that he’s here with us today.”

Obama also spoke about Jacare Hogan, a woman serving in the Army who survived three IED explosions in Iraq. “She proudly wears the Combat Action Badge. And today, Jacare is committed to helping other wounded warriors recover from the trials of war. ‘Helping the troops,'  she says, 'is what I’m all about.’ My fellow Americans, that’s what we should be all about.”

The president said he would “keep demanding that the rights and dignity of every veteran are upheld, including by pushing for the Disabilities Treaty, so that our disabled veterans enjoy the same opportunities to travel and work and study around the world as everybody else.”

At its national convention in Houston last August, The American Legion passed a resolution that supports ratification of the Disabilities Treaty (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

The resolution noted that the United States “must ratify the Disabilities Treaty because it embodies the principles of the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and reinforces our leadership in the promotion of opportunities for disabled veterans, servicemembers, and their families with disabilities to travel, study, work and serve in the world community....”