Biden Honors Fallen Troops; Obama Rained Out

Speech Nixed by Thunder, Lightning

Just chalk it up to another summer holiday, rained out.

While Vice President Joe Biden hailed America's fighting men and women Monday as the "spine of this nation," President Barack Obama's Land of Lincoln tribute was washed out by a severe thunderstorm and high winds.

Biden made the more traditional appearance at Arlington National Cemetery on Obama's behalf, saying the country has "a sacred obligation" to make sure its servicemen and women are the best equipped and best-supported troops in the world.

"As a nation, we pause to remember them," Biden said. "They gave their lives fulfilling their oath to this nation and to us."

Obama had prepped a similar message to share at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois, but when he took the podium, the skies opened up with thunder, lightning and high winds. 

"A little bit of rain doesn't hurt anybody, but we don't want anybody struck by lightning," Obama said while under the cover of a large umbrella. He personally made the decision to ask people to return to their cars for their safety. A few minutes later, the president boarded buses to greet military families who came for the event.

Before the storm hit, Obama had visited a section of headstones where two Marines awaited him. After laying a wreath, he bowed his head in a moment of silence, his hands tightly clasped. A lone bugler played "Taps."

After leaving the cemetery, Obama met privately with families of veterans and service members currently living at the Fisher House in Hines, Ill. It serves as a home away from home for family members of those receiving treatment at the Veterans Affairs Hospital, about 12 miles west of downtown Chicago.

Obama eventually did get to make a Memorial Day speech once he returned to Washington.

Obama, speaking to dozens of troops at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington after the Land of Lincoln tribute in Illinois
was washed out by a storm, said the nation's fallen heroes had such a deep love of country that they willingly sacrificed their own
lives to protect it.

"In this time of war, we pay special tribute to the thousands of Americans who have given their lives during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and who have earned their place among the greatest of generations," Obama said in the Monday evening speech.

Meanwhile, at Arlington, Biden carried out the traditional wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns in brilliant sunshine and humid temps.

The vice president, accompanied by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the country's service members are "the heart and soul and, I would, say spine of this nation." He said taking part in the annual ceremony was "the greatest honor of my public life."

Obama's decision to appear in Illinois, rather than at the national burial grounds at Arlington, had been controversial. Some veterans' groups criticized him for it, although he was not the first president to bypass the annual outing.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Arlington is the focal point of the nation's and military's attention on Memorial Day. "When he's not here, it doesn't look like he's on the same page," Rieckhoff said.

Rieckhoff said U.S. servicemen and -women need Obama to remind people that the holiday is not about going to the beach or barbecuing. "We think that he has an obligation to really bridge the divide between the military and the rest of the population," he said. 

"We appreciate that the vice president is going to be here, but it's not the same," Rieckhoff said.

Jay Agg, a spokesman for the veterans group AMVETS, said the annual ceremony at Arlington is "the ideal place for the president to observe Memorial Day. However, his choice to honor our fallen at another national cemetery as other presidents have done is entirely appropriate."

In an e-mail, Agg accused some people of using the day "as an opportunity to score cheap political points on the backs of our veterans and in doing so dishonor them and distract from the true meaning and purpose of Memorial Day."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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