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President Barack Obama delivered the keynote remarks at the Memorial Day Observance at The Wall on May 28, 2012. (Photo by Jim Greenhill)This year’s Memorial Day observance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was highlighted by President Barack Obama’s appearance to officially declare the beginning of the national commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, which will run through Nov. 11, 2025. Participants in the ceremony included Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and actor Tom Selleck, who served as master of ceremonies.

Obama laid a wreath at The Wall with Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, the widow of Army Spc. Leslie Sabo, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously in May.

The commemoration will last 13 years, roughly the length of the war, though the war’s exact dates have been disputed. The United States first sent advisers to Vietnam in 1959, and combat troops were sent in 1964, following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The year 1962 was chosen for the purpose of the commemoration because that’s when the Pentagon first authorized a Vietnam Service Ribbon for troops sent to Southeast Asia, The Boston Globe reported. It was also the year that President John Kennedy increased military advisers from a few hundred to several thousand.

The decade-long commemoration is under the direction of retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, a Vietnam War veteran who emphasizes that the effort will be grassroots in nature. Kicklighter said Memorial Day was to be the first day of a nationwide drive to recruit 7,500 community partners to participate in the commemoration by 2015. See Vietnam magazine’s interview with General Kicklighter

This was the second time a president has attended the Memorial Day service at The Wall. “It’s here we feel the depth of your sacrifice,” Obama said. “You did your job. You served with honor. You made us proud and you earned your place among the greatest generations. Welcome Home.”

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