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Obama: Many Americans don't 'fully grasp' the sacrifice of soldiers

President Obama honors the nation's fallen heroes in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery where he urged Americans not to forget that the we are still at war. NBC's John Yang reports.

President Obama marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and urging Americans to remember the soldiers still fighting, and dying, in Afghanistan.

After a ceremony steeped in solemn tradition, the commander-in-chief said he fears the men and and women of the military are fading from the public consciousness because many people don't know anyone serving in the all-volunteer fighting force.

Among the most revered posts in the army is that of the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Just a handful of soldiers have earned the honor of keeping vigil, and it's a watch that has remained unbroken since 1926. TODAY's Erica Hill reports.

"The truth cannot be ignored. Today, most Americans are not directly touched by war," Obama said at the hallowed burial ground, where rows of headstones were topped by small flags and cannon fire could be heard in the distance.

"As a consequence, not all Americans may fully grasp the depths of sacrifice, the profound costs, that are made in our name."

With troop withdrawal under way, the commander-in-chief noted that next year should mark the final Memorial Day of the war in Afghanistan.

Until then, he said, Americans have a duty to remember there are still 60,000 troops serving in Afghanistan, "still risking their lives to carry out their mission."

David Goldman / AP

Those who lost their lives in service to their country are honored during both private and public moments.

He mentioned by name three who went to Afghanistan, died in action and were buried at Arlington: Capt. Sara Cullen, a Blackhawk pilot killed in a training mission last April; Staff Sgt. Frankie Phillips, killed by a roadside bomb this month; and Staff Sgt. Eric Christian, who was gunned down May 4.

Obama also quoted a letter from a North Carolina mother of two Marines, who beseeched the public not to "forget about my child."

"On this Memorial Day and every day let us be true and meet that promise," he said. "Let us never forget to always remember.”