Thousands of people came to Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to pay their respects, see the president lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns or attend the annual national Memorial Day observance.
Volunteers handed out miniature American flags and, new to this year, roses for family members to place at grave sites. About 50 members of the Forty & Eight, an offshoot of the American Legion, took it upon themselves to hand out 5,000 flags.
"We're all vets, so we're honoring our fellow veterans," said Michael Pietz of Chicago, as he and his fellow Forty & Eight member Gerald Gomiller of New York handed out flags to passersby near the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater.
"There's a lot of us even buried here," Pietz said.
Volunteers already had prepared the cemetery, considered by many to be this country's most hallowed ground, for the day following its annual "flags in" tradition — placing small American flags at each gravestone.
The U.S. Air Force Band provided music for the event, including a stirring rendition of Trace Adkins' "Arlington" by Master Sgt. Robert Harrelson.
"That's an awesome song," said Beverly Lemon of Alexandria. Lemon, a former Defense Department employee, said she had also seen presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush speak on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery.
Pastor Derrick D. Davis brought about 40 members of Tabernacle of Praise Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., to Washington for the week. Between his 3-year-old granddaughter and a 90-year-old parishioner, most of the group had never seen the president.
"This is literally awesome," Davis told Patch. "Being here for Memorial Day helped climax the entire trip."
The crowd was quiet and attentive during the observance, as President Barack Obama urged the country to not forget the men and women serving and who have fallen despite living in a country where so many aren't directly touched by war.
"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," Obama said. "Let us never forget to always remember and to be worthy of the sacrifice they make in our name."
Mike McCullough of Elkridge, Md., said last year his family tried to attend the Memorial Day observance but didn't get here before the amphitheater filled up. This year, they left their home near Baltimore at 6:30 a.m.
"It was top-notch," he said. "It's just the pageantry, the memorial, the coming together from all across America. There was a group from Illinois in sitting in front of us. They have a 19-hour bus ride home."
John Kremple was in town for a graduation in Germantown, Md., and said going to the cemetery on Memorial Day was the biggest thing to do in the greater Washington area that couldn't be done anywhere else.
"Parades you can see anywhere," said Kremple, of Pelican Rapids, Minn. "It was very nice how (Obama) was respectful and brought up some actual names to drive home to everyone that this is real."
This was Obama's third consecutive year speaking at the national Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery.