Biden honors war dead; rain forces Obama to cancel Ill. speech
In Afghanistan, McChrystal leads tribute to fallen
ARLINGTON, Va. — Vice President Joe Biden hailed America’s fighting men and women yesterday as the “spine of this nation,’’ while President Obama’s Land of Lincoln tribute got 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 readied a similar message of gratitude for his appearance at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois, and actually had taken the podium to give the address when the skies opened up with a quintessentially Midwestern late-spring downpour: thunder, lightning, and high winds.
Under the cover of a large umbrella, he told thousands gathered before him that “a little bit of rain doesn’t hurt anybody, but we don’t want anybody being struck by lightning.’’ He asked people to return to their cars for their safety, and he retreated briefly to an administration building on the cemetery’s grounds. A few minutes later, Obama boarded a bus to greet military families that came for the event.
Within the hour, reporters who accompanied Obama to the cemetery in Elwood, Ill., were told the speech had been called off. Obama gave the speech instead upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.
Before the storm hit, and in advance of his appearance, 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. Then a lone bugler played taps.
At Arlington, Biden carried out the traditional wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns under brilliant sunshine.
The vice president, accompanied by Admiral 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.’’
Also yesterday, historic aircraft escorted a B-17 as it dropped flowers over the Statue of Liberty in a Memorial Day tribute to seven CIA employees killed in Afghanistan. The CIA employees, including Harold E. Brown Jr. of Bolton, Mass., and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a CIA base in Khost Province, southeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, US forces remembered friends and colleagues yesterday in Memorial Day ceremonies
As some soldiers paused, US-led NATO forces launched air strikes against Taliban insurgents who had forced government forces to abandon a district in Nuristan, Afghanistan. NATO also said it killed one of the Taliban’s top two commanders in the insurgent stronghold of Kandahar in a separate air strike.
At Bagram air field near Kabul, the largest US military base in Afghanistan, about 400 soldiers in camouflage and brown combat boots stood at attention for a moment’s silence as General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of some 94,000 US troops in the country, led the ceremony.
A steel construction beam from the World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was unveiled. The beam was donated by the citizens’ group Sons and Daughters of America of Breezy Point, a suburb in Queens, N.Y., where 29 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks lived.
McChrystal praised the soldiers for their courage, given the likelihood that they will lose more friends during their tours.
“The fact that people are willing to stand up and do what’s difficult, they’re willing to stand up and do what’s frightening, and they’re willing to stand up and do what often costs, really is the measure of not just a person, but of a people,’’ McChrystal said.