WASHINGTON (AP) – A reality TV host at heart, President Donald Trump is promised the “show of a lifetime” for the hundreds of thousands of revellers who flock to the National Mall every year on the Fourth of July.
The tanks are in place for the display of military muscle and protesters are ready to make their voices heard.
It’s been nearly seven decades since a president spoke there on Independence Day.
The US was at war in Korea when Harry Truman addressed a large gathering on the Washington Monument grounds, marking the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
He’s calling his event a “Salute to America,” honouring the armed forces, and he’ll speak at the Lincoln Memorial in front of a ticket-only, VIP crowd of Republican donors, administration and campaign officials, family members and those who flock to see him or protest what they see as a divisive intrusion on a traditionally unifying national holiday.
Trump sounded a defensive note on Wednesday, tweeting that cost “will be very little compared to what it is worth.”
“We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he said, referring to Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews, home for some of the planes that flew over the Mall yesterday.
“We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats.”
Trump glossed over the expense of shipping tanks and fighting vehicles to Washington by rail and guarding them for several days, and other costs.
Some of the president’s supporters welcomed Trump’s stamp on the holiday.
Rachel McKenna, a Trump supporter from McKinney, Texas, said her relatives have served in the military and she thought it was important to say “’We love you guys, we appreciate everything you do, and I love the fact I can see that,” as she pointed to the Bradley fighting vehicle positioned near the Lincoln Memorial.
“I’ve never ever seen one,” she said. “I just think it’s so cool.”
Under White House direction, the Pentagon arranged for an Air Force B-2 stealth bomber and other warplanes to conduct flyovers.
There were Navy F-35 and F-18 fighter jets, the Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team, Army and Coast Guard helicopters and Marine V-22 Ospreys.
The White House referred questions about the cost of the military participation to the Pentagon, which said it did not have the answer.
The Air Force said it costs USD122,311 an hour to fly a B-2 bomber, which is making the round trip from its home at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Officials said the flight will be considered a training event, with the cost already budgeted. The per-hour flying cost of the F-22 fighter is USD65,128.
Two Bradley fighting vehicles were in place on Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial, where Trump spoke.
In addition, two 60-ton Army Abrams battle tanks were sent to Washington by rail to be positioned on or near the National Mall, to the dismay of District of Columbia officials.
The presidential Air Force One and Marine One aircraft are also slated to make aerial appearances.
Kevin Donahue, District of Columbia deputy mayor for public safety, told The Associated Press the city expects the federal government to pay for any damage to streets or bridges from moving the tanks. Civil engineers will assess roads and bridges after July 4 to determine if there’s been damage.
Donahue said the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to reject the use of tanks and other heavy equipment.
In a separate tweet on Wednesday, Trump promised the Lincoln Memorial programme “will be the show of a lifetime!”
White House officials have stressed that Trump’s remarks will be patriotic, but the president often finds it difficult to stay on any kind of script.
But Tracie Lenihan of Spokane, Washington, an independent, said she didn’t understand why military equipment is part of the festivities. “I think it cost a lot of money and I’m not sure what it really has to do with the Fourth of July,” she said. “I don’t hate it. I’m just confused.”
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Codepink anti-war group, said use of the Bradley fighting vehicles reflected the “politicisation of July Fourth and the militarisation of July Fourth and we resent this.”
“We want it to be a holiday where people are having their picnics and they’re watching their fireworks and it’s all peaceful and united,” she said.
Instead, her group fielded a balloon depicting Trump as an angry, diaper-clad baby. But because of flight restrictions, officials would not let the group pump it with helium to make it fly higher and be more visible.