U.S. President Donald Trump paid tribute Monday to the nation’s war dead on Memorial Day in a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.
The U.S. leader touched the wreath of red, white and blue flowers and saluted the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that is inscribed with the gratitude of the country: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” A bugler played “Taps.”
Trump was accompanied to the ceremony by Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. First Lady Melania Trump and Second Lady Karen Pence watched from steps nearby along with other dignitaries.
But there was evidence of the ongoing coronavirus threat at this year’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington, the country’s most prominent cemetery for U.S. service men and women. Trump did not address the crowd as in years’ past and people attending the ceremony socially distanced themselves two meters apart from each other. Some military personnel wore face masks.
As Trump’s motorcade wound through the grassy knolls of the cemetery, cannons boomed out a salute to the fallen service members. Soldiers in dress uniforms and with masks saluted as the motorcade passed countless rows of headstones, all marked with small American flags.
Later, Trump visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore, about 70 kilometers from Washington, where a historic battle in the War of 1812 was fought and served as the inspiration for the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Trump spoke briefly there, as a row of American flags fluttered in the wind. He paid tribute to fallen U.S. warriors and to the nearly 100,000 people in the U.S. who have died from the coronavirus.
“We mourn alongside every single family that has lost a loved one,” Trump said, while declaring, “Together we will vanquish the virus.”
He said, “No threat is a match for the determination” of Americans.
In visiting Fort McHenry, Trump ignored calls from Baltimore Mayor Jack Young to not travel to the city. Young said Trump’s visit would send the wrong message as the mayor has urged Baltimoreans not to travel. Trump has refused to wear masks in public, and Young said Trump’s visit was not essential.
Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, emerged Monday from his Delaware home in the eastern U.S. for the first time in two months to also mark the holiday.
Biden, wearing a black face mask and accompanied by his wife, Jill, laid a wreath of white flowers at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veterans Memorial Park, as they bowed their heads in silence.
“Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made. Never, ever forget,” Biden told reporters.
Biden has conducted frequent news interviews and talk show appearances from his home in the last nine weeks or so, but like Trump has called off large-scale political rallies in the face of the coronavirus threat.
Memorial Day is observed annually in the U.S. on the last Monday in May to honor the hundreds of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for their country.
This past weekend, U.S. flags were flown at half-staff across the country from Friday through Sunday to honor the coronavirus victims, with the flags lowered again on Monday to mark the holiday.
The U.S. coronavirus toll, by far the highest in the world, includes more than 1,000 veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The holiday is also the unofficial start of the summer vacation season in the United States. But with social distancing guidelines and restrictions on certain travelers from overseas and millions of job losses, the holiday was different than in years past, with far fewer public tributes across the country.
Still, with millions of Americans anxious to resume normal lives as state governors have eased their stay-at-home restrictions, many went to beaches and lakes or ate meals in restaurants for the first time in about nine weeks.
But numerous crowds of people by the thousands ignored health officials’ warnings to keep a safe distance from each other and to continue to wear face masks.
White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx said Sunday she is “very concerned" by the pictures and video she has been seeing all weekend of people crowded together at swimming pools and other recreation sites without masks.
“We know being outside does help; we know the sun does help in killing the virus, but that doesn’t change the fact that people need to be responsible and maintain that distance,” she told the “Fox News Sunday” show. “I was hoping to convey this very clear message to the American people across the country: There is a virus out there,” she said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday his state is “decidedly in the reopening phase.” New York has been the hardest-hit U.S. state, but Cuomo said overall, the numbers there are going in the right direction.