President Donald Trump paid tribute Monday to all Americans who have worn a military uniform, from the Revolution through present-day conflicts. He spoke at the start of the annual New York City Veterans Day parade, where his presence drew protests.
"Today, we come together as one nation to salute the veterans of the United States armed forces, the greatest warriors to ever walk the face of the Earth," he said in Manhattan's Madison Square Park, off Fifth Avenue.
"Our veterans risked everything for us. Now, it is our duty to serve and protect them," said Trump, who was accompanied by the first lady.
Trump, the first sitting president to attend the parade, cited his administration's efforts to improve the health care and benefits for veterans through increased budgets for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He said satisfaction rates with the VA had reached 90%, "the highest ever recorded."
Earlier, on Fox TV's "Mornings With Maria," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie also said that the department had achieved "the highest veterans' satisfaction rate in our history. We're sitting at about 89.7 percent."
Trump's remarks were frequently interrupted by applause from the seated audience, which included political foe Mayor Bill de Blasio in the front row.
However, chants of protests to Trump's presence could be heard from nearby streets, and the windows of glass towers off the park held block letter signs spelling out "Impeach" and "Convict," a reference to the House impeachment inquiry.
A White House press pool report of the event said, "As Trump's voice boomed from loudspeakers, chants of 'Lock him up' could be heard coming from the crowd" outside the park.
In his remarks, the president said service members' tenacity and devotion to duty were recently demonstrated in the Syria raid that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
"Al-Baghdadi is dead. His second-in-command is dead, and we have our eyes on No. 3. His reign of terror is over, and our enemies are running very, very scared," Trump said.
"You are America's greatest living heroes," he told veterans in the audience, "and we will cherish you now, always and forever."
White Trump was in Manhattan, Vice President Mike Pence, joined by Wilkie, presided at the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
In later remarks in Arlington's amphitheater, Pence also cited the administration's efforts to reform the VA.
"This president and this administration know veterans' benefits are not entitlements; they are the ongoing compensation for services rendered in the uniform of the United States," he said.
Under Trump's leadership, "we've been working to keep those promises. We passed the most sweeping reforms of the VA in more than 50 years, and Veterans Choice is now available to every veteran in America," he said, referring to the Mission Act to expand private health care options.
"On this Veterans Day, we honor those who served. We honor you with tributes and promises kept," Pence added. "But as our veterans understand better than most, we also honor your service by ensuring that the men and women in our armed forces today have the resources and the support that they need to accomplish their mission and defend this nation. And this we have done."
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.