By Patricia Zengerle
ELWOOD, Illinois (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's Memorial Day observance was stopped in its tracks on Monday by a torrential downpour accompanied by bolts of lightning and booming thunder.
Obama thrilled the crowd at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery by appearing under an umbrella as the rain poured down. But he did not deliver his prepared remarks honoring troops who died fighting for the United States.
Instead he urged the crowd to seek shelter.
"We don't want to endanger anyone, particularly the children, in the audience. A little bit of rain doesn't hurt anybody, but we don't want anybody struck by lightning," he said from the podium, the storm so loud his words could barely be heard through the amplifiers.
As it became obvious that the storm was not going to ease, aides said Obama would not make his speech. Instead, he climbed onto buses where the crowds had taken shelter to greet the drenched members of the public.
Obama was able before the storm to quietly lay a wreath at another part of the cemetery, and then stood, his head bowed, as a bugler played "Taps."
The president last year marked Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington, where most presidents have laid wreaths on the national holiday. But this year he visited the cemetery about 50 miles southwest of Chicago, where he has been spending the long holiday weekend at his family home with his wife and daughters.
Vice President Joe Biden attended the ceremonies at Arlington in Obama's stead.
After the aborted event at the cemetery, Obama drove back toward Chicago, where he stopped to visit with families of troops and veterans being treated at a Veterans' Hospital just outside the city.
Aides said Obama met with families, including many children, posed for pictures, toured the facility and ate a bratwurst and baked beans that had been made for a Memorial Day barbeque.
He later gave the speech to a hastily assembled group of about 200 troops and their families at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after arriving from Chicago.
Obama spoke at a Memorial Day ceremony in Elwood in 2005, when he was an Illinois senator.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Editing by Eric Beech)