WASHINGTON – Amid a pandemic on the brink of claiming 100,000 American lives, President Donald Trump is making Memorial Day visits to a military cemetery and a historic fort – and will pay 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," the president is expected to say at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House.
"Tens of thousands of service members and national guardsmen are on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus," he is expected to say. "We mourn alongside all of the families who have lost a loved one – including the families of our Great Veterans."
As a military bugler played "Taps," Trump followed tradition by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery earlier Monday. 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.
Later, the president is expected to speak at a Memorial Day event in Baltimore.
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. The pandemic reduced the size of the crowd at the Arlington cemetery, and is likely to do the same in Baltimore.
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."
Contributing: John Fritze