Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Speech at Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Ceremony; Possible Independent Candidate Could Shake Up Presidential Race. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 30, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] GEN. ASH CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Above all, I witness the unending concern he has for our men and women in uniform and their families, their safety, their dignity, their welfare, and the boundless care with which he makes decisions that put them in harm's way. For this and for much more, I'm tremendously proud to serve as his secretary of defense.

Please welcome the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.




OBAMA: Good morning.

Good morning.

Secretary Carter, General Dunford, Mr. Hallonen (ph), Major General Becker, members of our armed forces, veterans, and most of all our Gold Star families, I'm honored to be with you once again as we pay our respects as Americans to those who gave their lives for us all.

Here at Arlington, the deafening sounds of combat have given way to the silence of these sacred hills. The chaos and confusion of battle has yielded to perfect, precise rows of peace. The Americans who rest here and their families, the best of us, those from whom we asked everything, ask of us today only one thing in return, that we remember them.

If you look closely at the white markers that grace these hills, one thing you'll notice is that so many of the years, dates of birth and dates of death, are so close together. They belong to young Americans, those who never lived to be honored as veterans for their service, men who battled their own brothers in civil war, those who fought as a band of brothers and an ocean away, and men and women who redefined heroism for a new generation. They are generals buried beside privates they led, Americans known as dad or mom, some only known to God.

As Mr. Hallonen, (ph) a Marine who then watched over these grounds, has said, everyone here is someone's hero. Those who rest beneath this silence not only here at Arlington but at veterans cemeteries across our country and around the world and all who still remain missing, they didn't speak the loudest about their patriotism. They let their actions do that. Whether they stood up in times of war, signed up in times of peace, or were called up by a draft board, they embodied the best of America.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than leading our men and women in uniform. I have no more solemn obligation than sending them into harm's way. I think about this every time I approve an operation as president, every time, as a husband and father that I sign a condolence letter, every time Michelle and I sit at the bedside of a wounded warrior or grieve and hug members of a Gold Star family.

Less than 1 percent of our nation wears the uniform, and so few Americans see this patriotism with their own eyes or know someone who exemplifies it, but every day there are American families who pray for the sound of a familiar voice when the phone rings or the sound of a loved one's letter or e-mail arriving. More than one million times in our history, it didn't come. And instead a car pulled up to the house, and there was a knock on the front door, and the sound of "Taps" floated through a cemetery's trees.

For us, the living, those of us who still have a voice, it is our responsibility, our obligation, to fill that silence with our love and our support and our gratitude and not just actions. For truly remembering and truly honoring these fallen Americans means being there for their parents and their spouses and their children like the boys and girls here today wearing red shirts and wearing photos of the fallen. Your moms and dads would be so proud of you, and we are, too.

[11:35:31] Truly remembering means that after our fallen heroes gave everything to get their battle buddies home, we have to make sure our veterans get everything they have earned, from good health care to a good job. And we have to do better. Our work is never done. We have to be there not only when we need them but when they need us.

30 days before he would be laid to rest a short walk from here, President Kennedy told us that a nation reveals itself not only by the people it produces but by those it remembers.

Not everyone will serve. Not everyone will visit this national sanctuary. But we remember our best in every corner of our country from which they came. We remember them by teaching our children at schools with fallen heroes, names like Dorrie Miller Elementary in San Antonio, or being good neighbors in communities named after great generals like McPherson, Kansas, or when we walk down First Sergeant Bobby Menendez Way in Brooklyn or drive across the Hoover Dam on a bridge that bears Pat Tillman's name.

We revealed ourselves in our words and deeds but also by the simple act of listening. My fellow Americans, today and every day listen to the stories these Gold Star families and veterans have to tell. Ask about who he or she was, why they volunteered. Hear from those who loved them about what their smile looked like and their laugh sounded like and the dreams they had for their lives.

Since we gathered here one year ago, more than 20 brave Americans have given their lives for the security of our people in Afghanistan, and we pray for them all and for their families.

In Iraq, in our fight against ISIL, three Americans have given their lives in combat on our behalf, and today I ask you to remember their stories as well.

Charles Keating IV, Charlie or Chuck or C-4, was born into a family of veterans, all American athletes and Olympians, even a gold medalist. So naturally Charlie and the love of his life, Brooke, celebrated their anniversary on the fourth of July. She called him the huge hoop ball everybody wanted to be friends with. The inventor who surfed and spear fished and planned to sail around the world. When the Twin Towers fell, he was in high school and he decided to enlist. He joined the SEALs because he told his friends it was the hardest thing to do. He deployed to Afghanistan and three times to Iraq, earning a Bronze Star for valor, and earlier this month while assisting local forces in Iraq, who had come under attack, he gave his life. A few days later, one of his platoon mates sent Charlie's parents a letter from Iraq, "Please tell everyone Chuck saved a lot of lives today," it said. He left us with that big signature smile on his handsome face as always. Chuck was full of aloha but was also a ferocious warrior. So today, we honor chief special warfare officer, Charles Keating IV.

Louis Cardin was the sixth of seven children, a Californian with an infectious wit, who always had a joke at the ready to help someone get through a tough time. When his siblings ran around the house as kids, his mom, Pat, would yell after them, "Watch that baby's safety margin." And today, she realizes that what she was really doing was raising a Marine. As a teenager, he proudly signed up. He graduated high school on a Friday, three days later, on Monday morning, the Marines came to pick him up. That was 10 years ago. One morning this March, a Marine knocked on his mother's door again. On his fifth tour at a fire base in Iraq, Louis gave his life while protecting the Marines under his command. Putting others before himself was what Louis did best. He chose to live in the barracks with his buddies even when he could have taken a house off base. He volunteered to babysit for friends who needed a date night. He just earned a promotion to mentor his fellow Marines. When they brought Louis home, hundreds of strangers lined freeway overpasses and the streets of southern California to salute him. And today, we salute Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin.


[11:40:45] OBAMA: Joshua Wheeler's sister says he was exactly what was right about this world. He came from nothing and he really made something of himself. As a kid, Josh was the one who made sure his brother and four half-sisters were dressed and fed and off to school. When there wasn't food in the cupboard, he grabbed his hunting rifle and came back with a deer for dinner. When his country needed him, he enlisted in the Army at age 19. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan 14 times, earned 11 Bronze Stars, four for valor. Last October, as ISIL terrorists prepared to execute 70 hostages, Josh and his fellow Special Ops went in and rescued them. Every single one walked free. We were already dead, one of the hostages said, then God sent us a force from the sky. That force was the U.S. Army, including Josh Wheeler. Josh was the doting dad who wrote notes to his kids in the stacks of books he read. Flying home last summer to be with his wife, Ashley, who was about to give birth, he scribbled one note in the novel he was reading just to tell his unborn son he was on his way. Ashley Wheeler is with us here today holding their 10-month-old son, David.


OBAMA: Ashley says Josh's memory makes her think about how she can be a better citizen, and she hopes it's what other people think about, too. Today, this husband and father rests here in Arlington in Section 60, and as Americans, we resolve to be better, better people, better citizens, because of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler.

Our nation reveals itself not only by the people it produces, but by those it remembers. We do so not just by hoisting a flag, but by lifting up our neighbors, not just by pausing in silence, but by practicing in our own lives the ideals of opportunity and liberty and equality that they fought for. We can serve others and contribute to the causes they believed in, and above all, keep their stories alive so that, one day, when he grows up and thinks of his dad, an American like David Wheeler can tell them as well the stories of the lives others gave for all of us.

We are so proud of them. We are so grateful for their sacrifice. We are so thankful to those families of the fallen.

May God bless our fallen and their families. May he bless all of you. And may he forever bless these United States of America.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain standing for the playing of "Taps" and the benediction.



UNIDENTIFIED U.S. MILITARY CHAPLAIN: Eternal rest grant unto our beloved dead, oh, Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Bless us all, Lord, bless us all across this land we call America with strength, wisdom, and courage. And may the sacrifice of so many who have died in service to our country and our world inspire us who remain to a renewed commitment to our nation and to our patriotic duty. Amen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in place until the president has departed and the colors are retired.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And as we see some of the families obviously who have gathered at this 148th memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, it's hard not to feel the lump in your throat when you see a baby that young and a mom who is clearly there for a reason none of us wants to be. This is the moment the president will leave with the official party.

The last time he will leave the amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery for this national memorial.

I want to bring in "Spider" Marks again, General James "Spider" Marks; and also Kimberly Dozier, our CNN global affairs analyst.

I took note that he said two times the quote by JFK, who is buried just a short walk away from the picture we are seeing on our screen, "A nation reveals itself not only by the people it produces but by the people who remember."

And, Spider, America does this best every memorial day like clockwork with military precision, one of the best ways to remember our fallen heroes.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Ashleigh, it's quite phenomenal. There are a number of nations that have readily stepped up to the call to try to make a difference and to improve the human condition as the secretary of defense indicated earlier. But I tell you, America has been so incredibly selfless in an amazing sacrifice that it's made in such a short amount of time. We are still an experiment. This democracy is still something we are tinkering with. We are trying to make sure we get it right. So we play with it all the time. But it is one thing that we do exceptionally well, and that is to reach out to others to try to improve the human condition. And through the sacrifices of young men and women that we have seen and that we honor today, it is something that we can really move forward and to pass onto those who come behind us. We really must remember all of those sacrifices. And it really is an amazing day that the nation would step forward and do this. As you indicated, Ashleigh, as a matter of routine. It's what we do. It's like breathing air.

[11:49:56] BANFIELD: "It's like breathing air," the comment from general -- from secretary -- Defense Secretary Ashton Carter saying -- I'm going to paraphrase him, that security is like oxygen. When you have it, you don't think of it, and when you don't, you think of nothing else. It's very poignant.

Kimberly, there is a statistic that may have passed quietly on May 6 and that is that this president, President Obama, has been at war longer than any other United States president. And again, I'll repeat it. He came into office wanting to end the wars. It is not quite that simple. There are actions today that we mentioned earlier that are fierce. And our fighters, our American fighters, who are acting as advisors, are actually within stone's throw of the front line. And I don't think I'm using hyperbole when I say that.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That is something that is very much part of the planning process of U.S. commanders. I was just at a Special Operations conference last week where they don't waste time with the semantics of are they in combat or not. General Tony Thomas, who leads those forces, said, yes, they're in combat, but they're skating on the edge of it. The way the rules go, they're not the first one through the door. But they're right next to somebody who's the first through the door. And that is how Josh Wheeler, who the president mentioned, lost his life and others may. So that makes part of the comments all the more poignant when President Obama saluted the people in the crowd who are wearing the red shirts. I want to bring up, those are from, who brings families of the fallen to Washington, D.C., every year for an IEF camp. And I was able to represent CNN at a couple of their events this weekend. So you're in a crowd with people who come to share their grief, cry with each other, and also the laughter and smiles of the good memories. Those are the people who -- you come to supposedly help them but they end up leaving a lasting mark on you.

BANFIELD: As far as lasting images go, I want to leave our audience with the images from Arlington Cemetery.

Spider, thank you.

Kim, thank you.

Spider sent me a quick note saying, "There are generals buried next to privates they led." As the president sent those words, you see those pictures. There is nothing more true. If you ever get the opportunity to take a visit here, it is really spectacular. It is such an image. It is such a poignant visit to see those grave markers, all 400,000 of them. It's a remarkable thing. And the words of JFK that the president cited couldn't be more true, "We do remember them."

We'll take a short break and we'll be back right after this.


[11:56:37] BANFIELD: We have our eyes on a possible major political development today that could really shake things up in the presidential election, as if things haven't been shaken up already. This was something predicted by the prominent conservative and Trump critic, Bill Kristol, of "The Weekly Standard." He tweeted this out, "Just a heads up over this holiday weekend. There will be an Independent candidate, an impressive one, with a strong team and a real chance," end quote.

Not to be outdone, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, as he's known to do, hit the Twitter.

And CNN's Sara Murray in Washington, D.C. And she has been following the Twitters all day.

So what did he say?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, Donald Trump responded in his preferred method as you know, saying, "If Dummy Bill Kristol actually does get a spoiler to run as an Independent, say good-bye to the Supreme Court." Trump holding out that threat that if there is a third candidate, it could doom the Republicans to lose, and their possibility of naming a candidate to the Supreme Court, the next Supreme Court justice. It's worth adding at this point, we don't have a real indication of

who this might be that Bill Kristol is hinting to. And I've talked to a number of folks in the Never Trump movement, and they're not sure what Bill Kristol is talking about. But one thing is clear from recent polling, that there does seem to be a bit of an appetite among registered voters. In the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll, 47 percent of registered voters say, yes, they would consider an Independent candidate when they're deciding who to vote for.

BANFIELD: That's a lot of people.

MURRAY: that is a lot of people. It's give you sort of a sense of the dissatisfaction with the options right now. But the other reality is, as you know, Ashleigh, it's really hard to mount an Independent bid at this stage in the game. You need to build a team, raise a lot of money, get on the ballot. So certainly an upward haul.

BANFIELD: And you need to distinguish yourself from the Libertarians, who also feel they have fielded a candidate on the ballot. Gary Johnson is officially the Libertarian. So we'll see who the Independent is going to be. I'm excited.

Sara Murray, thank you.

MURRAY: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Coming up, the parents of a 4-year-old boy now dealing with the reality that a gorilla in an enclosure was shot because that boy fell in and was in danger. We've got all of the different angles on this and the sadness that so many are feeling that this 17-year-old animal had to be destroyed. That's next.