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Some object to president's absence from Arlington this Memorial Day

By Laurie Ure, CNN Pentagon Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama to mark holiday at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery outside Chicago
  • Vice president to attend Arlington National ceremony in Obama's place
  • Blogger says absence from Arlington shows lack of respect for veterans
  • But some veterans groups say absence is OK, citing that of other presidents

Washington (CNN) -- Several veterans and conservative bloggers are taking issue with President Barack Obama choosing not to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Vice President Joe Biden is attending in his place.

"Arlington is a place of tremendous symbolism," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

"On Monday, it's where the eyes of our entire nation will be focused," said Rieckhoff, "and unfortunately, the president and his family won't be there to stand with us."

After his Friday trip to the Louisiana coast to check on the oil spill, the president will go to Chicago, Illinois, with his family to spend time with friends. Obama will mark the Monday holiday with remarks at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, about an hour outside of Chicago.

"President Obama has a deep respect and appreciation for our service members and veterans, clearly seen in his administration's policies, priorities and actions," said Nick Shapiro, White House assistant press secretary.

A conservative blogger disagrees.

On Redstate.com, Erick Erickson writes, "going to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns has ... everything to do with a Commander in Chief who seems to not like the military showing some basic respect to the men and women, alive and dead, who have actually kept us free." Erickson is also an analyst for CNN.

But some vets groups say it's all right if the president misses this one, noting that he attended wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington last year.

Jay Agg, communications director for AMVETS, a veterans service organization, said "this really is a nonissue," calling a lot of the outrage "politically motivated."

"It really does seem odd to me that such a big deal is being made out of this because he is going to a national cemetery to observe the holiday in Illinois. Bush sent Cheney to a Veterans Day event in DC," Agg said.

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Obama's absence from Memorial Day services at Arlington will not be unprecedented, but in recent years, it has been a common practice to attend. President Bill Clinton went every year of his presidency, and President George W. Bush went each year except for the year he was in Europe to commemorate the D-Day anniversary. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did not attend regularly.

"AMVETS recognizes and appreciates the fact that the president has done a lot for veterans," Agg said. "He's behind the largest increase to the VA budget in history and has signed a number of critical pieces of legislation that benefit vets, including the post-9/11 GI bill, and more recently, caregiver legislation," he said.

"We're in middle of two wars," argues Rieckhoff, of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "There will be hundreds of children there who have lost parents. Every major veterans group will be there. He should be there with his family."

"We understand that President Obama is a very busy man. He has things like the oil spill and the economy to worry about," American Legion spokesman Marty Callaghan told CNN.

"Obviously, it is always a good thing for our commander in chief to be in the nation's capital for Memorial Day," he said. "But other presidents have not always been here, including the first President Bush and President Reagan."

"We feel like he is going to be here in spirit," Callaghan said. "He is our commander in chief."