Bradley Fighting Vehicles Appear at Lincoln Memorial as July 4 Celebration Nears

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Bradley Fighting Vehicle from Fort Stewart, Georgia on the National Mall, Washington D.C., July 3, 2019. (Richard Sisk/Military.com)
Bradley Fighting Vehicle from Fort Stewart, Georgia on the National Mall, Washington D.C., July 3, 2019. (Richard Sisk/Military.com)

Two 25-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicles were painstakingly moved into position at the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday -- intended to serve as backdrops for President Donald Trump's "Salute To America" speech on July 4.

The plan appeared to be to station the M2 Bradleys at either side of the memorial's entrance, where they could be seen by the commander in chief and his ticketed guests during a speech from the steps of the memorial, set to begin 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The armored vehicles, on two flatbed trucks, were brought to the National Mall Tuesday night in a police convoy and were parked on a side street behind the Lincoln Memorial.

Workers on Wednesday afternoon offloaded the Bradleys and used forklifts to place heavy metal slats In front of them, saving the pavement from damage as the tracked vehicles moved slowly on their own power to their positions.

The Bradleys, two 70-ton M1A2 Abrams tanks and an M88A2 HERCULES Armored Recovery Vehicle arrived in the District of Columbia by rail Tuesday from Fort Stewart, Georgia.

It was still unclear Wednesday when and whether the two Abrams tanks would be moved out of a railyard in southeast Washington, D.C., and brought to a site near the Mall as promised by Trump.

The Lincoln Memorial itself was closed to the public Wednesday as workers finished building a grandstand for special guests and scaffolding for broadcast of the events, but tourists mingled on the outskirts and snapped photos of the Bradleys.

The armored vehicles, on two flatbed trucks, were brought to the National Mall Tuesday night in a police convoy and were parked on a side street behind the Lincoln Memorial. (Photo by Richard Sisk/Military.com)
The armored vehicles, on two flatbed trucks, were brought to the National Mall Tuesday night in a police convoy and were parked on a side street behind the Lincoln Memorial. (Photo by Richard Sisk/Military.com)

Several tourists who spoke with Military.com had mixed judgments on the presence of the Bradleys and Trump's makeover of Washington, D.C.'s traditional Fourth of July celebration, complete with military aircraft flyovers and a speech from the president.

"This is so sad," said Mary McDonald, 59, who was visiting from Chicago, as she watched one of the Bradley's being unloaded.

"I don't think this belongs at a celebration of independence," she said, adding that she would not be coming back for the Fourth of July events.

Wes Hall, 59, of Norman, Oklahoma, had a different opinion. He was leading a nationwide tour for exchange students sponsored by the Rotary International service organization. The tour had been planned long before Trump announced his Independence Day plans.

Hall said that he and the students would be back for the July 4 events, and he saw the presence of the armored vehicles as a bonus.

"I don't have a problem with that. They're part of our arsenal -- why not on our [nation's] birthday?"

White House officials have billed Trump's transformation of Fourth of July on the Mall as a non-partisan tribute to the military, while Democrats have called it a "political rally" masquerading as a patriotic event.

The White House officials have said that Trump's speech would honor the five branches of the military, and White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters Tuesday that the speech would also highlight "the success of this administration in opening up so many jobs for individuals, what we've done for veterans."

The Pentagon, the White House and the Interior Department have declined to give overall cost estimates for the July 4 events, but a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday that the costs to the military would be totaled up and eventually provided to the public.

Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's delegate to Congress, speculated whether the District would be reimbursed for assisting with security and crowd control for July 4.

"The federally funded D.C. Emergency Planning and Security Fund (ESPF), which compensates D.C. for security and emergency services for federal events, is still owed $7.3 million for the 2017 Inauguration, even without the costs of Trump's unprecedented Fourth of July extravaganza," Holmes Norton said in a statement.

Watchdog groups will also be carefully monitoring Trump's remarks for possible violations of the Hatch Act, which bars the use of federal funds for political events.

In a statement, Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics and now a senior adviser to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington group, said that it could cost Trump a bundle if his speech on July 4 veers into the political.

A political speech would "violate federal appropriations law and the Hatch Act. In that case, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale had better have the campaign's checkbook handy and be ready to write plenty of zeros," Shaub said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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