Obama visits with troops, honors King on holiday
WASHINGTON ” With history intersecting the transfer of power, large crowds thronged to the capital Monday, on the eve of Barack Obama’s elevation to the presidency as America honored slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
A day away from becoming the nation’s 44th president, Obama made an unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with troops injured in battle. And President George W. Bush made calls from the White House to thank several world leaders for their work with him over the last eight years.
On the streets, live broadcasts by the television networks attracted swarms of onlookers, and behind the scenes people made final preparations for a slew of parties, balls and other celebrations that will follow Obama’s oath-taking and the inaugural parade.
Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, fresh off a rollicking concert at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday, planned to spend their final day before the inauguration with activities keyed to the celebration of King’s life, cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.
The Obama and Biden families were part of a community renovation project in honor of King on the federal holiday established in his memory. Transition aides declined to name the locations or details of the projects.
The run-up to Obama’s inauguration, like his election itself, has been defined by enormous public enthusiasm, carefully choreographed events and a lofty spirit of unity. What awaits, as Obama often reminds the nation, is many months, if not years, of tough work.
The weekend celebrations began Saturday with Obama’s whistle-stop tour, from Philadelphia to Washington, along the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861. Then came that roaring celebrity-filled concert where several hundred thousand people flanked the reflecting pool, hearing actors, singers and then Obama himself rally for national renewal.
Obama is asking the nation to honor King’s legacy by making a renewed commitment to service. That has long been the goal of the King holiday, even if many see it as a day off.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has launched a Web site, USAService.org, to help people find volunteer opportunities close to their homes.
“I am asking you to make a lasting commitment to make better the lives of your fellow Americans ” a commitment that must endure beyond one day, or even one presidency,” Obama said in a YouTube appeal last week. “At this moment of great challenge and great change, I am asking you to play your part; to roll up your sleeves and join in the work of remaking this nation.”
The president-elect has a busy Monday evening, too.
He is to attend three private dinners to honor the public service of former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Biden, a longtime senator from Delaware; and Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Those dinners will be held at the Hilton Washington, National Building Museum and Union Station.
Michelle Obama, the future first lady, is hosting a children’s evening concert.
At the Capitol on Monday morning, groups of tourists wandered around the barricades to take pictures of the viewing stands and the monuments and buildings. A few even stood and watched NFL highlights that were being shown on the big-screen TV at the Capitol.
Three teachers from Baltimore said they decided to come out to the Capitol to scope out their routes in and out for the inauguration ceremony.
“Seems like they’ve planed it out pretty well,” said Gary Campbell, 29, of Baltimore as his group looked at the viewing stand from across the Capitol reflecting pool. Their school, Baltimore Freedom Academy, and the Homeland Security Academy planned to send four busloads of children to the National Mall to watch the inauguration ceremony.
Being from Baltimore the three were decked out in cold-weather gear and said they planned on wearing thermal coats, hats and scarves for the long wait on the Mall Tuesday.
“We knew to come prepared,” said Maddy Ahearn, 24.
Runner Kim Person stopped in front of the Capitol to snap a few quick pictures of the reviewing stand during a break in her marathon training. Person doesn’t have a ticket to the festivities, so she used the early morning lull to get close to the building.
“That’s why I’m looking at it today, because I won’t be able to see it tomorrow,” said Person, 43, who plans to be near the Washington Monument on Tuesday.