Trump creates Memorial Day drama; local officials strike traditional tone
Against a backdrop of local speeches and parades, social media was gripped by reports that the president planned to pardon accused and convicted war criminals.
President Trump stirred up controversy among America's veterans on Memorial Day, while local officials took a more traditional stance toward commemorating the country's war dead on the national holiday.
On Monday, the president tweeted a video produced by Arlington National Cemetery. "We remember on this day our beloved sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, spouses, friends and neighbors," read text superimposed over images of Arlington's grave markers. "Patriots who served."
Trump — who is on a four-day state visit to Japan and spent part of the day at a U.S. naval base in Yokosuka — also shared footage from the White House's Twitter account showing him and first lady Melania Trump visiting Arlington last Thursday. In Trump's stead, Vice President Mike Pence made remarks at Arlington on Monday.
Meanwhile, social media rippled with criticism over the president's reported plans to pardon Americans accused or convicted of war crimes. On May 18, the New York Times said the White House had requested expedited paperwork to pardon certain troops on or around Monday. According to the Times, the cases included officers accused of killing unarmed civilians, and a former security contractor convicted of shooting dozens of unarmed Iraqis in 2007.
A poll released last week by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 52 percent of veterans opposed those pardons, and 62 percent considered Memorial Day to be inappropriate timing.
As of Monday afternoon, the pardons had not materialized. But the Twitterverse was thick with retweets of major newspaper editorials criticizing the idea, along with presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg's Sunday comments on ABC's "This Week," in which he called Trump's rationale for the pardons a "slander against veterans." (Buttigieg is himself a veteran.)
Locally, the day proceeded with traditional statements and observations, not entirely without politics. Mayor Bill de Blasio returned from a presidential campaign weekend in Las Vegas to speak at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's annual Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday morning. He praised the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, a frequent critic of Trump, directly addressing McCain's Navy lieutenant son, Jack. "I want to thank you, Lt. McCain, for what you do for our nation," he said. "Lieutenant, I have to say, we also miss your dad so much. We miss his voice of conscience."
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted a Memorial Day statement. "Today we remember the women and men who have given their lives in service to a grateful nation," he said. "May their lives of duty and honor in service of something greater than themselves inspire us all to never stop working to build a better country in a more peaceful world."
On Twitter, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urged action. "Today, #MemorialDay, we honor the lives of all those who gave their lives, both abroad and at home, in service to our country," she said. "It’s a hard day for many. Take time to be there for one another; to check in, share stories, reflect, or mark quietly with a moment of gratitude."
Commemorative parades were held throughout the five boroughs, including the 152nd annual Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade and the 100th annual Staten Island Memorial Day Parade. And Madison Square Park hosted an installation of 10,000 small American flags, each one representing 10 soldiers from New York state killed in action since the Revolutionary War.
In a Facebook post, Sen. Chuck Schumer wrote, "We will never forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice serving our country. We owe them and their families a debt we can never repay."