Washington, DC – President Donald J. Trump was joined by some of his cabinet members as he paid the nation’s respects to those lost in war during Memorial Day ceremonies today (May 29).
On a damp Monday morning befitting a somber Memorial Day, an unusually long motorcade started rolling from the White House, as the Vice President Mike Pence came along.
Trump, wearing a dark suit and blue tie, entered the presidential limo with Pence. National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster was spotted in full uniform near the motorcade. There was a tense moment for Kellyanne Conway, who was initially locked out of a car but a secret service agent helped by pulling on the door handle three times, then knocking on the door before someone unlocked it.
There were salutes and protests along the way. Near Memorial Bridge, a group of a dozen individuals stood in a line and saluted. They seemed like military service members doing an exercise and were carrying flags and backpacks. The presidential motorcade also passed a group of “Westboro Baptist Church” protesters, who were holding signs starting with “God hates…” The traveling journalists didn’t see the entire hateful message. As motorcade travelled the cemetery, service members stood at attention along the route and a 21-gun salute could be heard booming in the background.
As Trump arrived near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the sun emerged and dissipated the clouds. Soon the president went into position, then held his hand over his heart as the National Anthem played. Guided by a service member, Trump presented a wreath to a stand near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and held it there for a long moment.
The first speaker, at the event hosted by the Department of Defense in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater, was Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunlap, who urged attendees to “do something more” than mark the graves of fallen service members on Memorial Day and “find a method” of serving the nation.
Introducing Trump was Defense Secretary James Mattis, who called Arlington Cemetery the place of “America’s courageous dead.”
In a speech after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Trump said “words cannot measure the depth of their devotion, the purity of their love or the totality of their courage. We can only hope every day that we prove worthy, not only of their sacrifice and service but of the sacrifices made by their families and loved ones they left behind.”
The president spoke of the sacrifice of DHS Secretary John Kelly’s family whose son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. “We grieve with you, we honor you, and we pledge to you that we will always remember Robert and what he did for all of us,” the president said.
Trump also paid tribute to World War II veteran and former Senator Bob Dole during the speech and turned to the wars of today by remembering Army Spc. Christopher D. Horton, an Oklahoma National Guard sniper who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011, and Army Maj. Andrew D. Byers, a Green Beret officer killed in action in Afghanistan last year.
Horton’s widow, Jane, and Byers parents, Rose and David, were at the ceremony and the president promised that America’s gratitude to them “is boundless and undying. We will always be there.”
Since the founding of the United States, more than 42 million Americans have stepped forward to serve their country in uniform, said Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford during his remarks at the memorial ceremony. “Their story is one of selflessness, it is one of courage, and it is one of sheer commitment,” he said. “But their story is also one of extraordinary sacrifice. More than 1 million Americans who answered the call to duty, gave their last full measure of devotion so their fellow citizens could live in freedom and raise their children in peace.”
Stressing that the sacrifices and the sacrifices of the families and friends must have meaning, he urged all Americans to work together with those sacrifices in mind. “If we truly want to give meaning to the sacrifice of those who gave all on our behalf, each of us will leave here today determined to find, in some small way, a method of serving our nation and our communities in their honor,” he said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quoted Robert L. Binyon’s poem written during World War 1.
“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,” the secretary read. “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”
Echoing words of Dunford, Mattis said he wanted Americans to unite around the sacrifice and the sacrifices of the families. “The empty chair on a holiday is empty every day,” he said. “The photograph that goes wherever you do — the picture fades, but the person in it does not. Their fighting spirit persists. Passed on through the ranks, their spirit echoes in those that serve today in the air, on land and at sea. In a world awash with change, some things stand firm. Some things are as Plato said: ‘good and true and beautiful.’”
Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly, whose son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, joined President Trump at the observance program. When asked by a journalist what the day means for him, Kelly replied succinctly, “Sad.”
Addressing the audience, Kelly said, “On Memorial Day, our country recognizes the more than one million men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while carrying out their duties in our armed forces.”
“Throughout our nation’s history, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen have valiantly responded when called to duty. They have run toward the danger when others have retreated,” continued Kelly, concluding, “We are thankful to our men and women in uniform—past and present—for putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our nation and our people.”
After the ceremony, instead of heading back to the White House, the president visited with families in Section 60 of the cemetery, where most of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. Trump visited the grave site of Secretary Kelly’s son Robert at this section, per the White House.
As Trump exited the motorcade, he encountered a woman carrying flowers among the tombstones. He accepted a yellow rose from him. According to information, she is Alison Malachowski and her son, SSGT James Michael Malachowski, is buried at Arlington. Vice President hugged her. The journalists also saw Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller, accompanying the president there.