Fireworks, fun and a performance from Brad Paisley at the South Lawn birthday party for America...
At the final White House Independence Day picnic of his first term, President Obama on Wednesday evening paid tribute to the nation's men and women in uniform as "a generation of heroes" who represent "what is best in America.” With First Lady Michelle Obama by his side, and surrounded by Wounded Warriors on a balcony on the South Portico, the President told troops and their families that his "backyard party" was a simple token of appreciation. It included prime seats for viewing the spectacular fireworks display over the National Mall, and a performance from country music star Brad Paisley and The President's Own Marine Corps Band.
"As your Commander in Chief, but also as an American, I wanted to invite all of you over to say one thing: Thank you," said President Obama, clad in khaki pants and a navy blue shirt.
"All of you represent what is best in America. You serve under our proud flag. You and your families sacrifice more than most of us can ever know--all in defense of those God-given rights that were first put to paper 236 years ago: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Mrs. Obama, in a navy and red striped top and a white pleated skirt adorned with multiple belts, smiled and waved as her husband spoke to more than 1,200 guests celebrating on the South Lawn, which was festooned with flags and red, white and blue bunting and balloons. Paper lanterns were strung in the historic tree branches. (Above: The President hoists a baby)
Costumed characters strolled the party, and two huge Uncle Sam nutcracker figures stood guard by the Rose Garden. Kids were treated to face-painting and games, and white tents offered hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled corn and salad, as well as popcorn, cotton candy, ice cream, and soda and beer.
The President gave a shout-out to each branch of the military, noting by name those who stood beside him on the balcony: Army Sergeant Alan Ruehs, Navy Petty Officer Taylor Morris, Air Force Colonel Charles Barnett, Marine Corporal Alex Nguyen, and Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Michelle Watson. (Above: A long view of the picnic)
"All the men and women who stand with us here this afternoon are an example of this generation of heroes -- this 9/11 Generation that has earned its place in history alongside the greatest generations," President Obama said.
"As long as I have the honor of being your Commander-in-Chief, I want you all -- our men and women in uniform, our veterans and their families -- to know this: America will always remember. We will always be there for you, just as you’ve been there for us. That’s my promise. That is America’s promise."
The evening was hot and humid, with the thermometer pushing above 90 degrees even after dark, in a continuation of a week-long heatwave in Washington.
"It's supposed to be hot, it's the Fourth of July," the President said, laughing.
He was celebrating more than just America's birthday: First Daughter Malia also marked her 14th birthday. Mrs. Obama sent a birthday greeting on Twitter, which the President retweeted.
The President closed his remarks to his guests simply.
"Happy Fourth of July, everybody. Enjoy the fireworks. Get some hotdogs," he said.
"God bless you. God bless your families. And God bless these United States of America."
The President worked a long ropeline with Mrs. Obama after his remarks, greeting guests, kissing babies, and posing for photos with the troops, which included donning a patriotic straw cowboy hat (above).
The heat didn't stop the fun: Guests danced in front of the dramatically lit stage as Paisley, the Country Music Association's 2011 Entertainer of the Year, played many of his hits during the USO-sponsored "Salute to the Military" concert. (Above: Paisley playing)
"Probably at this moment I am the proudest to be an American as I have ever been," Paisley told the cheering crowd.
Paisley threw guitar picks into the crowd for thrilled fans, and also had some advice before launching into his hit tune "She's Everything."
"If you've ever wanted to make out on the White House lawn, this is your shot," Paisley said. "If you can't close the deal with this song..."
The White House livestreamed Paisley's performance and the fireworks that followed, but did not release a video of the concert.
Earlier in the day, the President paid tribute to more troops, speaking at a naturalization ceremony in the East Room for 25 service members who were born in countries around the world. The 10:05 AM ceremony came shortly after the President returned from an extended weekend visit to Camp David, the Presidential retreat in Maryland.
Above: Costumed Presidential characters stroll the South Lawn.
The fireworks display over the National Mall:
The President embarks on the first official bus tour of his campaign on Thursday, with stops in Ohio. He will visit Pennsylvania on Friday.
Last week, the President and Mrs. Obama hosted the annual Congressional Picnic at the White House. It also had a country theme: "Blues, Boots & Barbecue." (Above: A longshot of the South Portico during the President's remarks)
*The transcript of the President's remarks.
*Pool photos; White House videos; Paisley photo courtesy of Brad Paisley