Every year Americans celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day to honor our nation’s service members, both past and present, for their service to our country.
On Memorial Day it is tradition for the president of the United States to visit Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, deliver a speech and lay a wreath at the Tomb of Unknowns.
However, I say “tradition” lightly because although it is a custom, it is not required for the president to do so. The president can send someone else in his place.
According to the Arlington National Cemetery’s website, “the president or his designee lays a wreath to mark the national observance of Veterans Day, Memorial Day or some other special occasion.”
Prior to our recent observance of Memorial Day, I was seeing rumors all over the Internet that President Barack Obama was not going to attend the services at Arlington, and would thus be the first U.S. president who did not lay a wreath on Memorial Day.
Obama did in fact lay a wreath and deliver his Memorial Day speech at Arlington this year, but just for fun let’s set the record straight.
According to several presidential libraries, university databases and the National Archives, several 20th-century presidents — including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon — never visited the Arlington site on Memorial Day. What a shocker?!
Herbert Hoover went in 1929, but a sitting U.S. president did not visit Arlington on Memorial Day again until Gerald R. Ford attended the ceremony in 1975.
Ronald Reagan went three times out of his eight years in office, while Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush never went.
This isn’t to say these presidents didn’t do anything to honor the occasion, because they did, but I’m specifically referring to the ceremony at Arlington.
In fact, it seems according to records, the tradition of presidents going to Arlington on Memorial Day didn’t really begin until Bill Clinton was in office.
In 1993, after receiving flak about his lack of military service, Clinton visited Arlington on Memorial Day and continued to go for the next seven years.
Then there’s George W. Bush. Bush did go seven of his eight years in office, but let me also point out that would also mean there was one time he didn’t.
That year George W. Bush spoke at a cemetery in Normandy, where Americans killed during the D-Day invasion and in World War II are buried. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz laid the wreath in his place.
In 2009, months after Obama took office, he went and laid a wreath.
Here’s where the controversy starts. On Memorial Day 2010, Obama did not go to Arlington. Instead, he was scheduled to deliver a speech to honor fallen soldiers at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois, while Vice President Joe Biden took his place at Arlington. When a thunderstorm in Illinois interrupted Obama’s scheduled event, he returned to Washington to deliver his speech at Andrews Air Force Base instead.
The critics were in a frenzy. President Obama just can’t win, even if the critics are ignorant of the facts about the tradition.
With the exception of 2010, Obama has participated in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknowns every year, including this year.
It might also be worth mentioning for anyone who questions Obama’s loyalty to the troops, that Obama has met privately with the families of the fallen.
In the fall of 2009, he also made a special midnight visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of fallen G.I.’s.
Now, the information I have provided may not mean much to Obama’s critics, but I definitely think it’s worth mentioning. He has enough problems at the moment without people making things up about him on the Internet.