"After a decade under a dark cloud of war we can see the light of a new day on the horizon," Obama told a crowd of military families gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Memorial Day.
Under a bright, cloudless sky, the president was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, at the marble sarcophagus on a hill overlooking Washington, D.C.
Obama was slated for a full day of Memorial Day ceremonies. From the cemetery, he was headed to the Vietnam War Memorial for a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of that war.
In his remarks, the president connected that conflict to the current one, honoring soldiers who stepped forward to serve "from the jungles of Vietnam to the mountains of Afghanistan."
"They fought for a home they would never return to. They fought for buddies they would never forget," Obama said. "They rest here side by side, row by row because each of them loved this country and what it stands for more than life itself."
But the president focused his tribute on the fallen in the Iraq war, a conflict he opposed as he ran for office and declared ended in December.
He named four men killed on the first day of the invasion -- Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, Staff Sgt. Kendall Waters-bey, Cpl. Brian M. Kennedy and Capt. Ryan A. Beaupre -- and also noted Army. Spec. David Hickman, the last U.S. soldier to die before the withdrawal.
The president and NATO allies last week ratified plans to withdraw most U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of the 2014, although the details and the pace of the withdrawal are unclear.
Still, he has been eager to emphasize the near completion of that unpopular conflict. His message on Monday underscored that message and even carried a hint of the antiwar critique of his last presidential bid.
"As commander in chief, I can tell you that sending our troops into harm's way is the most wrenching decision that I have to make. I can promise you I will never do so unless it's absolutely necessary," Obama said. "And that when we do we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation."