While rain fell on his parade and criticism dampened the mood, Donald Trump mangled history and made an ambitious outer space claim as he became the first president in nearly seven decades to address a Fourth of July event in Washington DC.
Hailing American soldiers’ victory “on the ramparts” during the Revolutionary War that ended in 1783, Mr Trump said the US army “took over the airports … it did everything it had to do.”
Social media was abuzz afterwards. “The speechwriter wrote it in as a joke hoping it would be picked up on,” said one Twitter user.
“Speechwriters inserted Easter Eggs,” said another.
The bungle and summer downpour didn’t seem to dampen Mr Trump’s spirits, nor those of First Lady Melania Trump, who had been missing in action from public life since June 21.
With Jumbotron screens broadcasting Mr Trump’s “show of a lifetime”, the President said “There will be nothing that America cannot do” as long as Americans “never stop fighting for a better future”.
His focus was on unity, patriotism and military derring do, delivered in the style of an old-school newsreel, but critics decried the event as the politicisation of Independence Day.
“Together, we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told – the story of America,” Mr Trump intoned, sailing close to the wind in his agreement not to deal in party politics.
“For Americans, nothing is impossible,” he said, reeling off a laundry list of accomplishments including the moon landing 50 years ago and promising, “very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2019
After critics said ‘Salute to America’ resembled a Chinese display of military power, a mooted parade of Abrams tanks through Washington streets failed to materialise.
Two Bradley armoured vehicles were displayed for invited VIP spectators inside a VIP section near the Lincoln Memorial.
Hours before the event kicked off, a fight involving more than a dozen people broke out near the White House as anti-Trump protesters set fire to an American flag, according to The New York Times.
The protestors chanted “America was never great” as they confronted Trump supporters. A brawl was broken up by the Secret Service before the protestors again set fire to the flag and two arrests were made.
With its military flyover, 21-gun salute and fireworks show, ‘Salute to America’ reportedly saw the White House refuse to share the costs of the ceremony.
According to CBS News, $3.5 million of taxpayer money initially dedicated to the National Park Service helped pay for the show.
Mr Trump dismissed criticism his parade was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, saying “we own the tanks and all. Nice!”
The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow 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. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2019
The ‘Salute to America’ event was whipped into life after Mr Trump fell in love with France’s Bastille Day military display in July 2017, calling it “one of the most beautiful parades I have ever seen.”
He wanted a bigger and better one of his own: “We’re going to have to try and top it.”
The Pentagon was given only a few days’ notice Mr Trump expected all the Joint Chiefs of Staff by his side, reported The New York Times.
Most were on leave or on travel, and sent deputies.
The National Park Service said it would not provide estimates of the size of the crowd.
The administration had stressed over RSVPs, according to Politico.
“They started this too late and everyone has plans already,” Republican donor Dan Eberhart told the website.
“Everyone will be there in spirit, but in reality, people planned their July 4th activities weeks ago.”
A ‘Trump Baby’ balloon had an up and down day, being inflated by anti-war organisation Code Pink in the morning before having to be deflated around 2.30pm because of high winds.
It was full of hot air again for the event.
“He is making this about himself and it’s really a campaign rally,” said Code Pink co-director Medea Benjamin.
“We think that he’s a big baby … he’s erratic, he’s prone to tantrums, he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. And so this is a great symbol of how we feel about our President.”