- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2019

Army tanks will be stationed outdoors for the first time at the National Mall for President Trump’s July Fourth speech and a star-spangled “Salute to America” celebration.

“It’ll be like no other,” Mr. Trump told reporters Monday at the White House. “I’m going to say a few words, and we’re going to have planes going overhead, the best fighter jets in the world, and other planes, too. And we’re going to have some tanks stationed outside.”

The president has taken a keen interest in revamping the annual Independence Day celebration in the nation’s capital, including his delivery of a speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Thursday’s festivities will include a flyover of the Navy’s Blue Angels, a 35-minute fireworks display, a parade and reportedly another flyover by the redesigned Air Force One aircraft.

“It’s a salute to America,” Mr. Trump said. “I hope a lot of people come.”

Mr. Trump has been captivated by the idea of a grand, patriotic display of military hardware in Washington since attending a Bastille Day parade in Paris as the guest of French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017.

He has been pressing his administration to make such a celebration happen in Washington over the objections of officials, who warned that the treads of a 60-ton tank would severely damage city streets. His announcement Monday confirmed that the Pentagon approved the new setup.

The president said the weight of the tanks will require careful staging around the Mall.

“You’ve got to be pretty careful with the tanks because the roads have a tendency not to like to carry heavy tanks,” Mr. Trump said. “So we have to put them in certain areas, but we have the brand new Sherman tanks and we have the brand new Abrams tanks.”

The Sherman tank dates back to World War II and has not been in active service since before President Eisenhower left office.

Mr. Trump has presided over a buildup of the military at over $700 billion per year and said the nation should show its pride for the armed forces.

“We have some incredible equipment, military equipment on display — brand new,” the president said. “And we’re very proud of it. We’re building a lot of new tanks in Lima, Ohio — our great tank factory that people wanted to close down until I got elected. I stopped it from being closed down, and now it’s a very productive facility and they do, nobody’s — the greatest tank in the world.”

The cost of transporting the tanks is believed to be about $870,000. It’s not clear how many tanks there will be or where they will be parked.

No estimates have been released about the overall cost of the Independence Day ceremonies, but officials worry that the event, which has typically been unaffiliated with the president, will attract protesters and drive up the cost.

The National Park Service, which oversees the National Mall, said in a statement that its officials are “working with the White House to execute the president’s vision for Salute to America, a celebration of America’s armed forces that will feature music, military demonstrations, flyovers and remarks from the president.”

In June, the Park Service approved a request by liberal gadfly group Code Pink to fly the “Baby Trump” blimp — a huge balloon of Mr. Trump’s head on a diapered baby’s body — near the Lincoln Memorial, though the group said some of the details of where and when were being worked out.

“We see it as an image of Trump’s behavior, which is, as we all know, unpredictable and prone to tantrums about things that are really, really dangerous,” Code Pink co-director Ariel Gold told reporters upon filing the permit request. “It’s a way of saying, ‘We really need an adult in the White House.’ “

Mr. Trump originally sought to hold a military parade with tanks and other vehicles in Washington for Veterans Day, but the Pentagon balked and the White House estimated the cost at $30 million.

The liberal group VoteVets complained that Mr. Trump “is turning the national 4th of July celebration into a 2020 campaign event, complete with a ticketed VIP section for friends and supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.”

“That’s not what America is about,” the group said Monday.

For the event on the Mall, VoteVets is soliciting $3 donations to print thousands of T-shirts emblazoned with the “USS John S. McCain,” the warship named in part after the late senator from Arizona who often clashed with Mr. Trump. The group said it has raised enough money to distribute at least 5,000 T-shirts on the Mall and hopes for veterans ultimately to hand out 10,000 shirts.

The ship is also named for McCain’s father and grandfather, both of whom were Navy admirals.

When the president looks out at the crowd on the Mall, the group said, “we want him to see a crowd filled with Americans wearing USS John S. McCain t-shirts. Because the 4th is about honoring the idea of a country bigger than oneself, and generations of McCains showed that through military service and sacrifice.”

During Mr. Trump’s visit to Japan in May, news stories surfaced that the White House had ordered Navy officials to move the USS John S. McCain out of view from the site of the president’s address to soldiers and sailors at a Navy base. Mr. Trump said he didn’t know about it, and the White House later denied that anyone had ordered the ship to be hidden from view.

For the beefed-up celebration, two fireworks firms have donated $750,000 worth of pyrotechnics for a 35-minute show. The Interior Department said “Salute to America” will honor each of the nation’s five service branches with “music, military demonstrations, multiple flyovers including a flight demonstration by the Blue Angels and much more.”

Participants include the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the U.S. Army Band (“Pershing’s Own”), the Armed Forces Chorus and the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Team.

“This is going to be a fantastic Fourth of July with increased access across the National Mall for the public to enjoy music, flyovers, a spectacular fireworks display, and an address by our Commander-in-Chief,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. “We received an extraordinary donation for a phenomenal fireworks display, and our colleagues from the Department of Defense will be providing a one-of-a-kind music and air power experience including a flight demonstration from the Blue Angels.”

The annual Independence Day parade on Constitution Avenue starts at 11:45 a.m. Thursday and will run from Seventh Street to 17th Street, with marching bands, fife and drum corps, floats, military units, giant balloons, and equestrian and drill teams.

The “Salute to America” event will take place from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial, with the president honoring the armed forces. Gates will open at 3 p.m.

A concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol will take place from 8-9:30 p.m., featuring host John Stamos, Grammy winner Carole King, recording artist Vanessa Williams, singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, the National Symphony Orchestra and a special appearance by the Sesame Street Muppets.

The fireworks display is scheduled to light up the skies from 9:07-9:42 p.m.
Mr. Trump told U.S. troops in South Korea on Sunday that the celebration will be big.

“We’re making it especially big because we’re more proud of our country today than we have been in many, many, many decades,” the president said at Osan Air Base. “I want you to know that, as we pay tribute to armed forces this July Fourth, we will be thinking of you — the brave service members far from home, preserving American independence and all of that American great, great feeling of independence, and defending our great American flag.”

He told the troops serving halfway around the world, “Americans are born free, and as long as we have brave soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines, we know that our freedom will never, ever die.”

⦁ Bailey Vogt contributed to this report.

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