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Where Obama Was on Memorial Day?

Claim Alleges President Was First to Skip Wreath-Laying at Arlington

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Where Obama Was on Memorial Day?

Vice President Biden attends 2010 Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Updated September 17, 2010

President Barack Obama took a considerable amount of flak in 2010 when he observed Memorial Day not at Arlington National Cemetery, as is tradition for U.S. presidents, but at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.

See more: 5 Wacky Myths About Obama

In his place, Vice President Joe Biden took part in the customary wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Obama laid the wreath at the tomb in 2009.

So was Obama the first president to skip the Arlington ceremony?

To hear his critics, you'd think so.

"I have no problem with the man taking a vacation. But I am sick and tired - sick and tired - of people believing the lie that this administration has respect for the police or has respect for the soldiers of our country," the radio host Glenn Beck said. "I'm tired of it."

Conservative talker Mike Savage was a bit more blunt, actually accusing Obama of being "the first so-called president in American history to give a middle finger to the dead."

They're wrong on two counts.

Obama did, in fact, honor Memorial Day - by placing a wreath at the marker of a soldier whose remains had not been recovered at the cemetery in Illinois. And, no, he was not the first president to mark the somber occasion outside of Arlington National Cemetery.

  • In 2002, then-President George W. Bush commemorated Memorial Day at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France, according to White House archives. Vice President Dan Quayle laid the wreath at Arlington.
  • Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, never once observed Memorial Day at Arlington during his four years in office. On at least two occasions, he was vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, according to numerous published reports.
  • In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan skipped the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington for a summit in Williamsburg, Va., with leaders of the industrialized democracies, according to The Associated Press. Deputy Secretary of Defense W. Paul Thayer laid the wreath. Reagan did not observe Memorial Day at Arlington in four of his eight years in office.

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