President Barack Obama today ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff at the White House and all public buildings until sunset on Saturday in memory of five service members gunned down last week in attacks in Chattanooga.
Obama’s order came after some critics questioned why he had not done it sooner, noting that he had ordered the lowering of flags after the elementary school shooting in Connecticut, the Boston Marathon bombing and a shooting at Fort Hood.
In the order, Obama said the nation’s “thoughts and prayers” are with the five slain last week.
“We honor their service,” he said, adding “We offer our gratitude to the police officers and first responders who stopped the rampage and saved lives. We draw strength from yet another American community that has come together with an unmistakable message to those who would try and do us harm: We do not give in to fear. You cannot divide us. And you will not change our way of life.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday he couldn’t explain why the flag at the White House had not been lowered. His order was released just after 1 p.m.; House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in 9 a.m. press releases that as Congress returned to Washington, they had ordered flags at half-staff over the Capitol.
Boehner said he ordered the flags lowered at sunrise and was “pleased to learn that, just hours later, the president decided to follow suit at the White House.” He said the House would also mark a moment of silence on the House floor: “We will continue to pray for their loved ones and also take action to protect our men and women in uniform who protect all Americans,” he said.
Obama paid tribute Tuesday to the five at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, saying their service shows “the love of country and the devotion of duty.” He read out their names one by one, recounting highlights of their personal lives and service overseas.
“We endure because the freedoms and values you protected are now defended by a new generation,” he told the veterans. “Americans just like our five patriots who gave their lives in Chattanooga. As a grateful nation, we must stand up for them and honor them now and forever. God bless these American heroes.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took credit for Obama’s decision: