Biden Pays Tribute at Arlington as Obama Memorial Day Event is Rained Out

As President Obama was trapped in rain trying to pay his respects to America's war dead Monday at a ceremony in Illinois, Vice President Biden spoke at a sunny Arlington National Cemetery to offer words of respect to the fallen and a solemn tribute to troops now fighting to secure America from new enemies.

In Elwood, Ill., Obama's trip to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery was disrupted by a torrential downpour complete with lightning. The president stood under a large umbrella at the podium to ask guests at the event to return to their cars while the storm passed but the president's car ended up leaving the site midday as the rain continued to fall.

"We don't want to endanger anyone, particularly children in the audience. So I'd ask everybody to very calmly, move back to your cars. I'm going to move back to mine. We will wait to make sure that the thunder has passed. A little bit of rain doesn't hurt anybody but we don't want anybody being struck by lightning. God bless you everybody," the president said as the audience cleared out.

He waited at an administration building for about a half hour, but the crowd, which included Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Roland Burris, dispersed after being notified the president left. The president then traveled to the Fisher House in Hines, Ill., to meet with wounded veterans.

Back in Arlington, Vice President Biden first laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at the cemetery on the other side of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., a tradition Obama participated in last year during his first year of his presidency.

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Biden then assumed the air of a commander-in-chief, saying that the United States has the best fighting force ever assembled.

"This is the finest military the world has ever produced. Period," Biden said from the memorial amphitheater.

Biden said he's visited U.S. troops in several locations that currently serve as the world's battlefields.

"Every time I can say without fear of contradiction, I come away impressed with the intelligence, the grit, the resolve and the patriotism of our young and men," he said.

Calling the Armed Services the heart, the soul and the spine of the nation, Biden, whose son Beau served in Iraq, said the fallen troops have "imparted a responsibility on us to recognize, to respect, to honor and to care for those who risked their lives so we can live our lives."

Biden noted having met with Gold Star families at the White House before the ceremony. The vice president said "none should be asked to sacrifice that much" and yet many families are now waiting for family members in harm's way overseas.

"Some of you have stood and waited for a loved one that did not return and live now with the knowledge that you will one day be reunited with them with our heavenly father," he said.

Biden said the threats have changed over the years, but globalization have made them closer than they were.

"Trouble halfway around the globe can and will visit us no matter how high are walls or how wide our oceans," he said, noting that ethnic animosities in failed states and radical fundamentalism are among the biggest challenges to freedom and security.

Biden's remarks come at the most famous ceremony on Memorial Day, but observances to honor the fallen are being carried out at hundreds of locations around the country.

Some had questioned the president's decision to skip Arlington in favor of a local event that would coincide with his family's holiday weekend at their home in Chicago. Obama spoke before at the Lincoln cemetery while a U.S. senator in 2005.

Lincoln is one of the newer cemeteries run by the National Cemetery Administration, which manages the burial plots for honorably discharged troops and their families.

Lincoln cemetery was dedicated in 1999. It has just 17 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of those interred there are World War II veterans who died in old age.

At the Vietnam Veterans Wall, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also held a separate ceremony.