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Obama honors Iraq war veterans at White House dinner

By Dan Merica, CNN
updated 5:29 AM EST, Thu March 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "In the history of this house, there has never been a night quite like this," Obama says
  • He pledges to thank and honor the service of wartime veterans
  • At the end of his speech, the president raises a glass of water and toasts his guests

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama hosted a dinner to salute soldiers recently back from Iraq -- marking his first major tribute to the veterans since officially withdrawing all troops from the nation.

The White House said it invited more than 100 veterans and one guest each to the event Wednesday night, and a few veteran groups and Gold Star families.

"In the history of this house, there has never been a night quite like this," Obama said. "This evening we welcome not the statesmen who decide great questions of war and peace, but citizens men and women from every corner of our country, from every rank of our military, every branch of our service, who answer the call, who go to war, who defend the peace."

Touching upon veteran difficulties following the Vietnam War, Obama pledged to thank and honor the service of wartime veterans.

Obama salutes Iraq war veterans

"You succeeded in your mission," Obama said. "In your resilience, we see the essence of America because we do not give up. All of you taught us a lesson about the character of our country."

At the end of his 10 minute speech, the president raised a glass of water and toasted his guests.

"To the country we love, to the men and women who defend her, and to that faith -- that fundamental American faith -- that says no mission is too hard, no challenge is too great," Obama said.

"Through tests and through trials, we don't simply endure, we are stronger than before, knowing that America's greatest days are still to come. And they are great because of you. Cheers."

The dinner, which the White House called "A Nation's Gratitude: Honoring those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn," also included remarks from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

"Thank you for your duty, for your dedication, for your service to this great nation," Panetta said. "Tonight we are truly in the company of heroes."

The president promised that these types of events would continue.

"This is not the first time we've paid tribute to those who served courageously in Iraq," Obama said. "This will not be the last.

The last U.S. soldiers pulled out of Iraq in December, ending nearly nine years of war that killed 4,500 Americans and left tens of thousands injured.

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