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Candidates, President Praise Veterans on Memorial Day

May 26, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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The presidential candidates celebrated Memorial Day by praising veterans and focusing on their concerns, while President Bush spoke to military families at Arlington National Cemetery.

RAY SUAREZ: A look at how the presidential candidates and the current president spent this Memorial Day.

In his last Memorial Day address as president, at Arlington National Cemetery, President Bush told the gathering of military figures, veterans and their families he holds a deep appreciation for those who’ve sacrificed on behalf of their country.

GEORGE W. BUSH, president of the United States: On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the commander-in-chief and try to tell you how proud I am of the sacrifice and service of the men and women who wear our uniform. They’re an awesome bunch of people, and the United States is blessed to have such citizens.

I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish. It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead, to preserve America as the greatest nation on Earth, and the last, best hope for mankind.

RAY SUAREZ: All three presidential candidates also paid tribute to America’s fighting men and women today.

John McCain spoke at a New Mexico veteran’s memorial in Albuquerque this morning. McCain talked up his proposal to give veterans additional educational assistance, while reiterating his opposition to a more generous bill offered by Virginia Democrat Jim Webb.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Ariz.: It would be easier, much easier politically for me to have joined Senator Webb in offering his legislation.

More importantly, I feel, just as he does, that we owe veterans the respect and generosity of a great nation because, no matter how generously we show our gratitude, it will never compensate them fully for all the sacrifices they have borne on our behalf.

The most important difference between our two approaches is that Senator Webb offers veterans who’ve served one enlistment the same benefits as those offered veterans who have re-enlisted several times.

Our bill has a sliding scale that offers generous benefits to all veterans, but increases those veterans’ benefits according to the veterans’ length of service. It’s important to do that, because otherwise we will encourage more people to leave the military after they have completed one enlistment.

RAY SUAREZ: Barack Obama was also in New Mexico attending a veterans town hall in Las Cruces with the state’s governor, Bill Richardson. He said it was up to each American to honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in service of their country.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Ill.: What they sacrificed for, what they gave all for is a larger idea: the idea that a nation can be governed by laws, not men; that we can be equal in the eyes of the law; that we can be free to say what we want, write what we want, and worship as we please; that we can have the right to pursue our own dreams, but the obligation to help our fellow Americans pursue theirs.

So, on this day, of all days, let’s memorialize our fallen heroes by honoring all who wear our country’s uniform and by completing their work to make sure America is more secure and our world is more free.

But let’s also do our part — servicemember and civilian alike — to live up to the idea that so many of our fellow Americans have consecrated: the idea of America. That is the essence of patriotism. That is the lesson of this solemn day.

Clinton in Puerto Rico

RAY SUAREZ: Hillary Clinton spent the day traveling across Puerto Rico, beginning with a visit to the parents of a soldier serving in Iraq in Bayamon. Afterwards, she was asked if she would increase veterans' care and benefits as president.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), N.Y.: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I have been working on behalf of veterans. I received the American Legion's Unsung Hero of the Congress award two years ago, and I have been strongly in favor of expanding the services.

I want to fully fund the Veterans Administration, because it is not providing adequate health care to our veterans. I want to maintain the specialized programs that the Bush administration is cutting back, including programs I started, like dealing with traumatic brain injury.

So I am a very staunch supporter, which is why I have so many veterans supporting me. And I'm very grateful for that, because our veterans deserve a commander-in-chief who will take care of them.

RAY SUAREZ: Clinton was scheduled to attend a Memorial Day event in San Juan late this afternoon.