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President Donald Trump, First Lady Attend Memorial Day Ceremony; Memorial Day Events Forced To Adapt To COVID-19 Restrictions; Ocean City Boardwalk Overflows With Beachgoers As Maryland Cases Spike. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 25, 2020 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to the special "Memorial Day" edition of the CNN NEWSROOM. I am John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. This is a solemn holiday. The Commander in Chief at this hour will lay a wreath at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. See the President right there arriving. Let's pause for a second.

We'll take you back to Fort McHenry for the President's remarks when he speaks at this Memorial Day ceremony. The Mayor of Baltimore calls this visit a bad example because his city's residents are still under a stay-at-home under.

Already this morning the President honoring the fallen with the traditional - Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. that earlier this morning. Last hour the Former Vice President Joe Biden leaving his home for the first time in two months for public event paying tribute to lost worriers in Newcastle, Delaware both the Former Vice President and Joe Biden wearing at that stop.

We'll soon hit a numbing milestone. 100,000 American lives lost from the coronavirus. We'll do so as America reopens and as Americans fill their beaches and backyard barbecues. 50 of the 50 states now partially opened, not open enough from the President's view.

The President this morning now threatening to pull the Republican National Convention from Charlotte because North Carolina's Governor a Democrat can't commit yet that his state will be fully reopened for visitors and large gatherings by August. Open faster as the President pushed and he says open for good.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was hearing millions of people and it would have been millions of people if we didn't shutdown. Would I shut it down again? No, because we understand it now much better. We didn't know anything about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you would not have in retrospect shutdown the-- TRUMP: I would have done the exact moves that I would have done and I did it early.


KING: Let's get straight to Baltimore CNN's Kristen Holmes. Kristen it is interesting the President's travels, the President's tweets, the President's words and the President's actions all designed to push reopening.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. We saw the President continue that narrative today as you said. This is a city that's still under a stay-at-home order and the Mayor actually asked putting out a statement--

KING: I am sorry to interrupt. The President of the United States now speaking let's listen.

TRUMP: 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. Earlier today the First Lady and I laid a wreath at in their secret honor at Arlington National Cemetery.

Now we come together to salute the flag that, they gave their lives to so boldly and brilliantly defend. And we pledge in their cherished memories that this majestic flag will proudly fly forever.

We are joined for today's ceremony by Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, Secretary of the Interior, David Barnhart, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Millie, Congressman Andy Harris and a number of service members and veterans of the armed forces.

The dignity, daring and devotion of the American military are unrivaled anywhere in history and any place in the world. In recent months our nation and the world have been engaged in a new form of battle against an invisible enemy.

Once more the men and women of the United States military have answered the call to duty and rose into danger. Tens of thousands of service members and our national guardsmen are on the front frontline of our war against this terrible virus carrying for patience, delivering critical supplies and working night and day to safeguard our citizens.


TRUMP: As one nation we mourn alongside every single family's that have lost loved ones including the families of our great veterans. Together we'll vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and greater heights.

As our brave warriors have shown us from the nation's earliest days in America we are the captains of our own faiths. No obstacles, no challenge and no threat are a match for this year determination of the American people. This towering spirit permeates every inch of the hollow soils beneath our feet. This place more than 200 years ago, American patriots stood their ground and repelled a British invasion in the Battle of Baltimore during the war of 1812.

Early on in September morning in 1814, the British fleet launched an assault on this peninsula. From the harbor some 30 British warships attacked this stronghold, rockets rained down, bombs burst in the air and the deck of one ship, a gallon young Americans was held captive. His name was Francis Scott Key.

For 25 hours, Key watched in dismay as a fire crashed down upon this ground. But through torrents of rain and smoke and the dinner battle, Key could make out 15 broad stripes and 15 bright stars. Barraged and battered but still there.

American forces did not waver. They did not retreat. They stared down the invasion and the hell that they had to endure. The fact is they held like nobody could have held before. They held this fort. The British retreated independents were saved.

Francis Scott Key was so inspired by the sight of our flag in the battle waged that the very grounds that he fought on became hollow and he wrote a poem, his ageless words became the anthem of our nation "The Star Spangle Banner."

Every time we sing our anthem, every time it is rousing cars swells our hearts with pride, we renew the eternal bonds of loyalty to our fallen heroes. We think of the soldiers who spent their final moments on distant battlefields to keep us safe at home.

We remember the young Americans who never got the chance to grow old but whose legacy will outlive us all. In every generation these interpret souls kissed good-byes to their families and loved ones. They took flights in planes and set sail in ships and marched into battle with our flag fighting for our country and defending for our people.

When the cause of Liberty was in jeopardy American warriors carried that flag through ice and snow to victory at Trenton. They hoisted it up the mass of great battleship in Manila Bay. They fought through hell to raise it high at top a remote island in the Pacific Ocean called --.

From the Philippines Sea to Falasia, from New Orleans to Normandy, from Saratoga to Saipan, from the Battle of Baltimore to the Battle of the Bulge, Americans gave their lives to carry that flag through piercing waves, blazing fires, sweltering deserts and storms of bullets and shrapnel.

They claimed to top enemy tanks, jump out of burning airplanes and left on live grenades. Their love was boundless and their devotion was without limits. Their courage was beyond measure. Army Green Boray, Captain Daniel Eggers grew up in Cape Coral, Florida determines to continue his family of military service and it was a great tradition. He attended the legendary Citadel Military College in South Carolina. Soon he met a beautiful Cadet Rebecca. They fell in love, married, and had two sons. In 2004, Daniel left for his second deployment in Afghanistan.


TRUMP: On the morning of May 29th, Daniel and his team were pursuing a group of deadly terrorists when he was killed by an improvised explosive device. This week is the 16th Anniversary of the day that Daniel made the supreme sacrifice for our nation. He laid down his life to defeat evil and save his fellow citizens.

At the time of his death Daniel's son Billion John were three and five years old. Today they have followed in Daniel's footsteps, both students at the Citadel planning to serve in the military. Their amazing mom Rebecca has now served more than 23 years in the U.S. army. Everywhere she goes she wears Daniel's Gold Star Pin on the lapel of her uniform.

Carnal Rebecca Eggers and her two sons are here today along with Daniel's father Bill and mother Maga. To the entire Eggers family, your sacrifice is beyond our ability to comprehend a repay. Today we honor Daniel's incredible life and exceptional valor. We promise you that we'll treasure his blessed memory forever.

Thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much. Please. Thank you. Great family, thank you very much. To every gold star family here today and all across our land, our debt to you is infinite and everlasting. We stand with you today and all days to come, remembering and grieving for America's greatest heroes.

In spirit and strength and loyalty and love and character and courage, they were larger than life itself. They were angels sent from above and they are now rejoined with God in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.

Where ever the stars and stripes fly and our schools and churches town halls and fire houses and national monuments, it is made possible because they are extraordinary Americans who are willing to brave death so that we can live in freedom and live in peace.

In the two centuries since Francis Scott Key wrote about the staring sight of our flag in battle countless other American patriots have given their own testimony about the meaning of the flag. One was World War II veteran, Jim Crepe from Sunbury, Ohio.

Jim and his twin brother Jack fought side by side in General Paton's third army At the Battle of the Bulge, the twins volunteered for a dangerous mission. Together they took out four enemy tanks and two machine gunists and a mother position that was very powerful loaded up with motors.

Jim's brother Jack was mortally wounded. Jim held his dying brother in his arms praying together as his twin passed away. Jim fought to victory and came home to build a great American life. He married had children became an electoral engineer and talk young people about war. As an old man Jim was asked what about the American flag and what it meant to him? Jim said the flag to me is as precious as the freedom that the flag stands for. It is as precious as the thousands of lives that have been lost defending her.

It is that important to me. It gave me a value of life that I could have never gotten any other way. It gave me a value of my lord and family and friends and loved ones and especially my country. What more could I ask.

Last month Jim died peacefully at his home at the age of 94. This afternoon we're greatly honored to be joined by his Grandsons, Andy and Ron. Please. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for being here.

Today as we remember the sacrifice of Jim's brother Jack we honor Jim's service and we're moved by his beautiful words. Andy and Ron, thank you for being here to remember your grandfather and his brother and what they did for us all and most importantly what they stood for.


TRUMP: From generation to generation, heroes like these have poured out their blood and sweat and heart and tears for our country. Because of them America is strong and safe and mighty and free. Because of them two centuries on the star spangled banner still proudly waves.

For as long as our flag flies in the sky above, the names of these fallen warriors will be woven into its threats. For as long as we have citizens willing to follow their examples to carry on their burden to continue their legacy then America's cause will never fail and American freedom will never die.

Today we honor the heroes we have lost. We pray for the loved ones they left behind and with God as our witness, we solemnly vow to protect, preserve and cherish. This land they gave their last breath to defend and to defend so proudly. Thank you, God bless our military. God bless the memory of the fallen. God bless our gold star families and God bless America. Thank you very much.

KING: The President of the United States speaking on this Memorial Day at Fort McHenry in Baltimore the birthplace of Star Spangle Banner. You see the President there enjoying some of the ceremony after his remarks there very solemn remarks and the President paying tribute to fallen and their families also touching on the Coronavirus threat saying we are in a new form of battle against an invisible enemy.

The President sticking to the teleprompter there you can see him a bit of a parallel universe if you watch the President in these official events and then take look at his Twitter feed you see two very different tones. This one here is solemn and fitting and the other one just to say not so much full of hate and spike and grievances.

Let's discuss this Memorial Day now and the President's visit at Fort McHenry with our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr along with our Military Analyst the Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. I will deal with the politics Barbara and Admiral.

Let's deal with what we should be dealing with on this day the solemnity of Memorial Day and the added soberness if you will a sobriety of having it in the middle of a pandemic. Barbara to you first, we saw the President earlier at Arlington Cemetery.

On this day when you as well as anybody understand how important it is to the families to stop by and to say hello to visit if you will the fallen, it is very different and not just in Arlington National Cemetery but in military cemeteries and other cemeteries around the country because of this pandemic.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is John. In the past we have seen President Obama and Vice President Biden when he was in office, President Trump of course and Vice President Pence stopped by and visit family's grave side of Arlington. That was not possible this year given the efforts to maintain social distancing and some of the other restrictions.

So, perhaps part of this event we have just witnessed in Baltimore is an effort to hear the voice of the President of the United States on Memorial Day and hear those words that you would expect from any President of patriotism and gratitude to the service of those in the U.S. military.

Look, by any stretch it is a very difficult Memorial Day. It is absolutely worth remembering repeatedly that so many veterans in this country who are on in years, who may not be well to have other medical condition, are dying of Coronavirus.

A real effort to keep them safe and in an effort to keep the family safe who have visited their loves ones at Arlington and other cemeteries across the country. I think part of what we are seeing here now is the President giving voice to some of the traditional Memorial Day rules of patriotism that the nation expects to hear.

KING: Yes, paying attention to the solemnity of the day. And Admiral, you connect the dots of this from your own service to Memorial Day to where we find ourselves in the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a piece you wrote for CNN on Sunday I want to read a little bit from it. Memorial Day is about the respect we show those who lost their lives defending our ability to live long ones. We'd be false in deed if we failed to remember what those fallen troops and their surviving families can teach us about how to better connect with one another?

How to recover from tragedy and how to overcome our own fear and grief during this pandemic? The important part to me reading that was the lessons we should learn, the lessons we owe from the fallen to learn from them?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETD.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Right. I mean, I think I would never dare to speak for combat that for those who lost their lives. But I want to believe I choose to believe that they would want all of us to live long, healthy lives and to be good to one another and to be the best we can for our country.


KIRBY: I think in memory of that and memory their sacrifices we owe it to ourselves right now in this pandemic to try to come together and to learn from one another. And I think while the experience of military families is different than families that are going through COVID, clearly it is a different scenario.

There are things of grief and loss and isolation that military families and particularly Gold Star families can teach the rest of our fellow Americans citizens and I think they want to do that.

KING: And Barbara, you spent some time with - it is considered treasured honored duty to be part of the regiment that helps with the burials at Arlington. And I want to listen here to little bit here from Caption Doug Rohde who was part of your piece, talking about how difficult it has been?

Some families have not been able to come for burials and others coming now you have social distancing and the masks. Let's listen a bit.


CAPTAIN DOUG ROHDE, U.S. ARMY: It means a lot to that we can still be there for the families. There have been a few funerals that we have done in the last couple of months where no families have been able to attend due to the virus. Our heart goes out to them. We are very happy that at least we can be there for them as they were there for us.


KING: Again you have such deep experience at this. Those soldiers, they treasure as duty but they treasure it because it is so important to them to give the fallen the appropriate farewell.

STARR: Well, that's right John. For the old guard, for any of the nation's ceremonial units that handle these difficult issues even the mortuary affairs team that handles the return of dignified return of remains.

When you talk to these troops, what you will find is, they will tell you it is their honor to serve. It is something they very much feel great gratitude in doing and how tough it must be to be at the funeral where no family member is present?

We have seen of course elderly veterans die and there are no living family members who can attend but these were people who had family members but could not come to the funeral grave side because of the virus. This is the age in which we live right now.

It is very grim business and I think it really also on this Memorial Day close to the point that for the fallen for the families of the fallen, their major issues, when you talk to them, they just want to make sure their loved ones and their service no matter how many years go by is not forgotten. KING: Amen to that. Admiral, you marked Memorial Day twice on the

calendar because of a personal loss explain?

KIRBY: June 8th 2013, a young woman officer worked with me in the joint staff, Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Lynn was killed in action in Afghanistan. So Memorial Day is certainly a day for me to remember her. Really for me Memorial Day is June 8th every year.

She was an incredible bright intelligent officer who worked for me on the Joint Staff. She had a way of lighting up a room and I know that sounds cliche but she did. When I got the call in 2013 from a mutual friend that she had been killed, it was like a switch had been turned off.

I don't remember hearing or seeing anything I was in a busy airport and it was like time stopped for a few minutes just while I tried to get my composure. Jamie Leonard was a real terrific soldier, a great leader and a patriot. I miss her every single year.

KING: We honor her service and all the fallen on this day. Admiral and Barbara thank you so much for helping us put this day an important prospective, thank you both. When we come back Memorial Day also is for many Americans the gateway to summer. The gateway this year is crowded beaches in the middle of a pandemic.



KING: Today is Memorial Day of course which means across America return to beaches and barbecues in many places. 50 states equal 50 different approaches to the reopening experiment now underway and that can produce mixed results. Take a look at the map here 18 states they're red and orange trending upwards, that's the wrong direction.

10 in green trending in the right direction right now, it is the beige states that means its cases are holding steady. Maryland was the side of an early Coronavirus pause but it is now a growing trouble zone. The average number of new cases in recent days you see it right there in Maryland, that's in the wrong direction.

That's a steep climb heading up which makes this scene a packed ocean city boardwalk potentially quite troubling. CNN's Pete Muntean is there in Ocean City, Maryland. Pete, everybody wants to get out and about the Maryland case count will tell you right now that's a little bit of a risk.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little risky, John. We have been hearing from folks that they are worried about that as well. You know it's not much of a beach day here in Ocean City, Maryland. I just want to show you how easy it is to social distance on the beach right now?

It is cold about 60 degrees relatively windy and cloudy. Although the sun is struggling to come out we will have to see how the conditions change things here especially when it comes to the boardwalk? You know the city says, I spoke to the Mayor that these conditions are actually working against them on the boardwalk where it is relatively easy to social distance right now little bit of a low.

But I want to show you this video from Saturday an entirely different set of conditions the weather much better, sunny and warm and 85 degrees out and it appear to be much more crowded.

City officials and system "E" that they are trying to do everything they can to get people to follow the policies of wearing masks and trying to get folks to remain socially distance out here on the boardwalk. The city says it has done everything it can but now it is on folks to do their part.

KING: Pete Muntean, for us on the boardwalk. We'll continue to watch the situation there and obviously the cloud cover is keeping people apart right now. Let's discuss this now with Dr. Emily Lane and she is an infectious disease expert at the University of Chicago.