Continued from page 1

Earlier in the day, across the Potomac at Arlington National Cemetery, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who carried out the traditional wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns, said the country has “a sacred obligation” to make sure its servicemen and women are the best-equipped and best-supported troops in the world.

“As a nation, we pause to remember them,” Mr. Biden said. “They gave their lives fulfilling their oath to this nation and to us.”

The vice president, accompanied by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the country’s service members are “the heart and soul and, I would say, spine of this nation.” He said taking part in the annual ceremony was “the greatest honor of my public life.”

Meanwhile, President Obama had readied a similar message of gratitude for his appearance at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois, and actually had taken the podium to give the address when the skies opened up with a quintessentially Midwestern late-spring downpour — thunder, lightning and high winds.

Under the cover of a large umbrella, Mr. Obama told thousands gathered before him that “a little bit of rain doesn’t hurt anybody, but we don’t want anybody being struck by lightning.” He asked people to return to their cars for their safety, and he retreated briefly to an administration building on the cemetery’s grounds. A few minutes later, Mr. Obama boarded a pair of buses to greet military families that came for the event.

After leaving the cemetery, Mr. Obama met privately with families of veterans and service members living at the Fisher House in Hines, Ill., which serves as a home away from home for family members whose loved ones are getting treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Hines.

After returning to Washington on Monday evening, Mr. Obama, speaking to dozens of troops at Andrews Air Force Base, said that the meaning of Memorial Day is found in the story of ordinary Americans who become extraordinary for one simple reason: Love of country.

This article is based in part on wire service reports