The Obama family gathered on the State Balcony of the South Portico of the White House to welcome 1,200 guests to their Independence Day barbecue, which honored military service people and their families, and included wounded veterans from the Walter Reed Medical Center (above). During the President's remarks, the First Family was flanked by 21 servicemen and one service woman, who'd been chosen by their own branches of the Armed Forces as special heroes.
The President said:
...although this backyard is a little bit unique, our gathering tonight is not so different from gatherings that are taking place all across the country, in parks and fields and backyards all across America. In small towns and big cities, folks are firing up grills, laughing with family and friends, and laying out a blanket in preparation for the big show. They're reliving the simple, unmistakable joys of being an American.
It was Malia Obama's eleventh birthday, and the President noted that when she was younger, he used to tell her that the fireworks were for her. "I'm not so sure she believes that anymore," he said, to laughter from the crowd. Malia had an American flag painted on her right cheek.
The President praised military service men and women, and promised continued support:
The United States of America is proud of you. I'm proud to be your Commander-in-Chief. And that's why, this Fourth of July, I renew my pledge to each and every one of you -- that for as long as I have that immeasurable honor, you will always have the equipment and support you need to get the job done. Your families will always be a priority of Michelle's and mine...
The President credited the “brave efforts” of U.S. troops for enabling the military to transfer control to all Iraqi cities and towns to Iraqi security forces this week. He said those efforts were allowing “a sovereign and united Iraq” to take control of its own destiny.
On the picnic menu: Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, watermelon slices, corn on the cob, garden salad with walnuts and cheese, ice cream, lemonade, Coke and Pepsi products, Sam Adams Light and Stoudts American Pale Ale (with a big American flag on the label) from the Adamstown, PA microbrewery. Grills were set up outdoors, and all the White House chefs worked the line, assisted by visiting culinary students from Brainfood, who have been interning in the kitchen this week.
The USO hosted the entertainment, and Jimmy Fallon, the host of NBC’s “Late Night,” emceed the event. The Marine Band performed (in pic, marching through the South Lawn). Singer Michelle Branch played a short set, and the Foo Fighters were the headliners. They got through about a half dozen of their hits, then stopped early to make way for the fireworks display on the National Mall, which started during the middle of their final song. There were lots of kid-friendly activities: Volleyball (above), basketball, face painting, Uncle Sam roaming around on ten-foot-tall stilts.
White House staff and their families and senior advisers also attended the bash. (Above: The President and First Lady shook hands with guests for about twenty minutes during the picnic).
*Press was pooled, and they were tossed out after the President's remarks. Photo credits, top to bottom: Alex Brandon, AP; AP; AP; Pete Souza/White House; Getty