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Obama: Look to veterans for "the character of our country"

President Obama awaits the start of the dedication of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, near the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, October 5, 2014.

REUTERS/Mike Theiler

WASHINGTON -- While dedicating the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, President Obama praised United States service members for representing the true character of the nation.

"America, if you want to know what real strength is, if you want to see the character of our country, a country that never quits, look at these men and women," Obama told more than 3,100 people gathered at the dedication.

Mr. Obama spoke at the opening of the memorial, which honors both living and deceased disabled veterans from conflicts throughout the country's history. The president said two centuries of American soldiers who have served would be memorialized.

The granite and glass monument near the U.S. Capitol was opened as the nation attempts to wind down the decade-long war in Afghanistan and tries to avoid putting troops into combat in Iraq once again, this time to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). About 50,000 military personnel were injured in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

Mr. Obama said the "painful truth" is that the nation has not always fulfilled its obligations to those who serve, and that the memorial would remind the country the debt it owes to veterans and others who have served in the military.

"This memorial is a challenge to all of us, a reminder of the obligations this country is under. If we are to truly honor these veterans we must heed the voices that speak to us here. Let's never rush into war, because it is America's sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives," Mr. Obama said. "Let us only send them into harm's way when it's absolutely necessary."

The memorial was organized by philanthropist Lois Pope, former Veterans Affairs secretary Jesse Brown and Art Wilson, who retired as CEO and national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans organization in 2013. The group first started work on the project in the late 1990s and raised more than $80 million for its construction.

"One of the things that I've always struggled with somewhat is I've never really felt that the general public really understands or understood what disabled veterans go through," Dennis Joyner, who lost three limbs to a booby-trap in Vietnam, told CBS News' David Martin.

"When the last battle's fought, the last soldier comes home, the war is over, for millions of disabled veterans it's not over," said Joyner. "They're going to live the rest of their life continuing to deal with the effects of that war."

Located behind the U.S. Botanic Garden, the memorial features a star-shaped fountain and ceremonial flame surrounded by a grove of trees.