US President Donald Trump said he had come to the “sacred soil” of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day to honour “the lives and deeds of America’s greatest heroes”.
An audience of Cabinet members, military leaders, veterans, families of the fallen and others gathered on Tuesday in the marble amphitheater near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Mr Trump said all Americans “strive to be worthy” of the sacrifice they made on behalf of a thankful nation.
He marked his second Memorial Day as commander in chief by laying a wreath at the tomb.
Before heading to the hallowed grounds across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, Mr Trump tweeted that “those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today”.
Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2018
In the tweet, the president veered from the somber to self-congratulatory, citing what he said was the “Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!”
He was criticised for his tone by a number of people, including the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Obama administration, former Army General Martin Dempsey, who tweeted, “This day, of all days of the year, should not be about any one of us.”
At Arlington, Mr Trump said the heroes who died for America “rest in these hallowed fields, in cemeteries, battlefields and burial grounds near and far, and are drawn from the full tapestry of American life”.
He said they came from “every generation, from towering cities and wind-swept prairies, from privilege and from poverty. They were generals and privates, captains and corporals of every race, color and of every creed, but they were all brothers and sisters in arms. And they were all united then, as they are united now, forever, by their undying love of our great country.”
General Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, honoured the more than a million Americans he said “gave their last full measure so we could live in freedom and raise our children in peace”.He also honoured the families “they left behind and for whom every day is Memorial Day”.
Those who fought and died for America, he said, “shared a commitment to something greater than themselves and they were people who understand what we have in this country is worth fighting for”.
Those who attended the Memorial Day tribute included Mr Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, whose son, Marine 2nd Lieutenant Robert M. Kelly, was killed in November 2010 after he stepped on a land mine while on patrol in southern Afghanistan.
He is buried at Arlington.