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Obama dines with 200 Iraq war veterans in solemn tribute

President Barack Obama hosts a dinner for members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb., 29, 2012.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – With a formal dinner for the few, President Barack Obama on Wednesday paid solemn tribute to the many.

The president who opposed the Iraq war from its outset thanked those who fought its battles by sitting down to a candlelit meal with a small cross section of the million-plus who served there over the past nine years.

Looking out over a sea of dress uniforms sparkling with medals attesting to years of wartime strife, Obama told the gathering: “In a culture that celebrates fame and fortune, yours are not necessarily household names. You are something more: the patriots who served in our name. And after nearly nine years in Iraq, tonight is an opportunity to express our gratitude and to say once more, welcome home.”

The faces of war were reflected in the 200 veterans and their guests who gathered in the East Room to dine on aged rib-eye steak, potato croquettes and chocolate creme brulee. They came from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, and spanned generations, gender and all five branches of the military.

Among the invitees: Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tawanda M. Hanible, who grew up on the South Side and founded Operation Heroes Connect, a non-profit that links service members and veterans with at-risk youth.

Also on the guest list was Army Major Eldridge Singleton, a decorated Iraq vet who grew up in Hopkins Park near Kankakee. AP