U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday wished “Happy Memorial Day” to U.S. service members aboard an American assault ship docked in Japan.
They shouted “U.S.A. U.S.A.” Trump called them a “tough bunch of people” and dubbed them “daring and mighty warriors in the Pacific.”
The president treated his appearance aboard the USS Wasp as a Memorial Day event because it was still Monday in the United States when he addressed hundreds of members of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.
“I have to wish you all a very happy Memorial Day,” Trump said. “On this Memorial Day evening in the United States, Americans are concluding a sacred day of remembrance, reflection and prayer.”
Before appearing on the USS Wasp, Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited a Japanese destroyer, the J.S. Kaga, docked nearby. Standing alongside Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump delivered the same “happy Memorial Day” message to the Japanese forces.
Some veterans and their families don’t like the phrase “Happy Memorial Day.” They say they prefer that the federal holiday remain a somber occasion for the nation to honor those who gave their lives in service to the United States.
“Our republic endures because of brave men and women who are willing to lay down their lives to defend us all,” Trump said. “Our freedom is earned through the blood and sweat and toil and sacrifice of great American patriots just like you.”
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Trump has come under sharp criticism for skipping ceremonial visits to cemeteries to honor America’s war dead on designated national holidays. Since then, the White House has been careful to show the public that he is marking occasions like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Before leaving for Japan, Trump placed small U.S. flags near headstones at Arlington National Cemetery.
Service members aboard the USS Wasp, docked at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, welcomed Trump with loud cheers and applause. Several wore round patches emblazoned with a likeness of Trump and the words: “Make Aircrew Great Again” — a play on his campaign slogan.
Trump’s helicopter trips to both ships capped his four-day state visit to Japan. He became the first head of state to meet Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, since his May 1 ascension to the throne.
The visit also allowed Trump and Abe to spend hours of time together on the golf course, at a sumo wrestling match and in meetings discussing trade, North Korea’s nuclear program, Iran and other bilateral issues.
Trump was scheduled to return to the White House on Tuesday.