In the last few days, there’s been a minor controversy about whether President Obama should have attended Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Doing so has become a recent tradition for presidents. Bill Clinton appeared at Arlington every Memorial Day of his presidency. George W. Bush did so on seven Memorial Days, and on the one holiday he was not at Arlington, he appeared at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. Earlier presidents did not always attend.
President Obama wanted to head home to Chicago for the Memorial Day holidays for cookouts and gatherings with friends. He still planned to observe Memorial Day, but instead of Arlington, he would appear at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, about 50 miles outside Chicago.
And so he did, but his appearance was accompanied by the rise of a thunderstorm so sudden and so severe that is stopped the proceedings almost immediately. Here are the president’s remarks upon taking the podium, umbrella in hand:
Good afternoon, everybody. Now everybody, excuse me, everybody, listen up. We are a little bit concerned about lightning. This may not be safe. So I know that all of you are here to commemorate the fallen. That’s why we’re here. What we’d like to do is if possible have people move back to their cars, and if this passes in the next 15 to 20 minutes, I will stick around, and we’ll come up and start up the ceremony again. But we don’t want to endanger anybody, particularly the children in the audience. So I’d ask everybody to very calmly move back to your cars. I’m going to move back to mine. We will wait to make sure that the thunder has passed. A little bit of rain doesn’t hurt anybody, but we don’t want anybody struck by lightning.
Obama’s speech was ultimately canceled, and according to a pool report, he met personally with service families on several buses. While the rain was certainly a disappointment for the thousands of people who had gathered to see the president, it should be said that skies were sunny at Arlington, where Vice President Joe Biden took part in ceremonies.