WASHINGTON – Amid a pandemic on the brink of claiming 100,000 American lives, President Donald Trump made Memorial Day visits to a military cemetery and a historic fort on Monday – and paid homage to service members responding to the coronavirus.
“I stand before you at this noble fortress of American liberty to pay tribute to the immortal souls who fought and died to keep us free,” Trump said at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, where he and first lady Melania Trump held their hands over their hearts as a fife and drum corps played the national anthem.
“Tens of thousands of service members and national guardsmen are on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus,” Trump said. “As one nation, we mourn alongside every single family that has lost loved ones, including the families of our great Veterans.”
A few hundred people gathered outside at the fort, which was decorated with red, white and blue banners.
Coronavirus live updates: Trump visits Arlington amid restrictions, Memorial Day crowds ignore warnings, deaths near
Earlier, as a military bugler played “Taps,” Trump followed tradition by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The brief ceremony honored “those who have died for our great Nation while serving in the US Armed Forces,” the White House said in a statement.
This Memorial Day comes as the United States braces to pass the 100,000 mark in deaths from the coronavirus that has forced the shutdown of state economies and limited public events. More than 1.6 million Americans have tested positive for the virus and nearly 98,000 have died as of midday Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
During the War of 1812, Americans soldiers at Fort McHenry defended Baltimore from attack by the British. The raising of a large American flag at the fort inspired the poem that turned into the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young criticized Trump’s visit to his city amid the pandemic, saying the president is not setting a good example.
“That President Trump is deciding to pursue nonessential travel sends the wrong message to our residents,” the Democratic mayor said in a statement.
In response, White House spokesman Judd Deere said: “The brave men and women who have preserved our freedoms for generations did not stay home and the President will not either as he honors their sacrifice by visiting such a historic landmark in our Nation’s history.”
More: Biden makes first in-person appearance in more than 2 months for Memorial Day remembrance
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running against Trump in this year’s presidential election, also marked the day, making his first public appearance in more than two months. Wearing a black mask, Biden placed a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home.
“Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made,” Biden said during a brief exchange with reporters. “Never, ever, forget.”
Contributing: John Fritze