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Remarks by the President at “A Salute to the Troops: In Concert at the White House”

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

November 06, 2014

South Lawn

7:36 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Please, have a seat, have a seat. Well, good evening everybody. On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House. (Applause.)

Tonight, as we near Veterans Day, we are continuing our White House music series with a salute to American patriots — our extraordinary troops, our veterans, and their families. And to help us pay tribute to these remarkable individuals, our men and women in uniform, we’ve got some musical legends — like Willie Nelson, John Fogerty. (Applause.) We’ve got Mary J. Blige in the house. (Applause.) We’ve got Romeo Santos. (Applause.) We have Common here. (Applause.) Hill Harper and Logan Lerman are here, as well, and we’re going to be joined by Daughtry, who’s playing at a big USO Show at Yokota Air Base in Japan. (Applause.)

And we’ve got some of the finest musicians in our military. (Applause.) We’ve got Sergeant Christiana Ball, U.S. Army — (applause) — and Captain John Auer and Captain Matt Smith, United States Marine Corps. (Applause.)

So between all of these folks, we’ve got a little bit of rock and roll, we’ve got a little bit of country, little bit of everything in between. And that’s fitting because here in America, no matter where you’re from, no matter what music you listen to, we’re all united in our respect and admiration for our brave men and women who wear our country’s uniform. (Applause.) So let’s give it up to — let’s give it up for the servicemembers, the veterans, the families. We are so grateful to have you here tonight.

One of my greatest privileges as Commander-in-Chief is the opportunity to spend time with all of you and your families. I’ve met young men who willingly chose to move toward grenades to save their friends. I’ve met heroes who ran into enemy fire and carry their comrades to safety. And I’ve seen their families, and the stress and strains that they go through, but nevertheless, they couldn’t be prouder to support those family members who serve.

We’ve seen, obviously, families of the fallen who keep the spirit of their loved ones alive, and their strength then inspires the rest of us. And of course, we are inspired by our wounded warriors whose injuries are no match for the sheer force of will that they display every single day. And some of them are joining us here from Walter Reed tonight. We are especially proud of them. (Applause.)

Just one story I want to tell, because I’ve gotten to know these folks pretty well. One of the wounded warriors here is Captain Luis Avila. I met Luis and his beautiful wife Claudia a few times, and their wonderful kids, and I want to just take a moment to share their story with you because I think it’s representative of what it means to serve the United States of America, to be a true patriot.

Almost three years ago, just after Christmas, Luis was in his fifth deployment –- this time in Afghanistan -– when he was severely injured in an explosion. He lost his leg, fractured his spine, suffered two heart attacks and a traumatic brain injury. Two weeks after the explosion, he arrived in the United States in a coma and on life support. It was so dire that Claudia was forced to confront that agonizing question –- was it time for her to let him go, take him off life support?

But if you have a chance to meet Claudia, she’s pretty strong and pretty stubborn. And she also had faith that Luis would recover. And as she prayed during those desperate days, she began praying — some of Luis’s — famous songs in the background: “Ode to Joy,” military marches, and some Beatles. At then he started twitching his facial muscles. And then he opened his mouth. And then he moved his tongue on command. And the whole time, Claudia was playing music day and night.

And then finally, Luis woke up. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t talk. But he’d heard those songs. And in the months and years that followed, he kept fighting back with the help of hundreds of hours of music therapy. And today, Luis can see again, he can eat again, he can speak again. He’s even playing, as I understand, a little bit of golf. (Laughter.) And every night, he still goes to sleep with music playing.

So tonight we’re honored to be joined by heroes like Luis and loving families like Claudia and their three boys, Luis Jr., Miguel and José. And we honor them with the beauty of music –- music that has the power to inspire us and fill us with pride, and, yes, sometimes to help us heal. And once this concert is over, let’s pledge to carry that spirit back to our own communities and to do our part, as Americans, to always serve these men and women as well as they have served us.

But for now, let’s have a little bit of fun. Please welcome the one and only Mr. Willie Nelson. (Applause.)

END
7:43 P.M. EST

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