WASHINGTON, May 31, 2010— -- Standing at the presidential podium this afternoon on the stage of a Memorial Day ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, a rain-drenched President Obama raised his left hand in a show of authority, while his right hand held a wind-buffeted black umbrella, and issued an order.
"Excuse me, everybody listen up," the commander in chief told the crowd huddled under umbrellas and plastic bags amid a torrential downpour outside Chicago. "We are a little bit concerned about lightning. This may not be safe. So I know that all of you are here to commemorate the fallen and that's why we're here. What we'd like to do is, if possible, have people move back to their cars."
The president, already facing scrutiny for his decision to skip Memorial Day ceremonies at Washington's Arlington National Cemetery, promised to wait out the storm for 15 minutes before deciding whether to continue, leaving hundreds of onlookers to trudge across flooded fields and muddy parking lots to take shelter in their vehicles in the meantime.
But as soon as the president walked down from the stage and back to his own car, the presidential motorcade drove off, later returning only briefly after the event was canceled to greet some of the soaked audience members who had holed up on nearby shuttle buses.
The inclement weather, however, wasn't the only hiccup in the president's day.
Shortly after departing the cemetery, the presidential motorcade screeched to a halt on Interstate 55 after one of the black SUVs blew a tire. The passengers got out and piled into another car before continuing to a Cook County VA hospital, where the president visited with wounded military service members.
The president's agenda got off to a rocky start early this morning with news of a botched Israeliattack on a Palestinian aid convoy, threatening to complicate Middle East peace talks, and news the Gulf oil spill continues to get worse.
Obama also continued to take fire from conservative veterans groups who have attacked the him for not attending Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.
Obama, who spoke at Arlington last year, spent the weekend in Chicago with his family. Vice President Joe Biden delivered remarks at Arlington today instead.
Obama Not First to Miss Arlington on Memorial Day
Speaking near Arlington's Tomb of the Unknowns, Biden praised the generations of fallen military service members, calling them the "spine of this nation."
"They were the best of us, they were our blood, bone of our bone. They were our treasure," said the vice president, whose son Beau served in Iraq.
Obama is not the first or only president to attend Memorial Day ceremonies at a venue other than Arlington. President George W. Bush was in Europe during Memorial Day in 2002, and George H.W. Bush never attended. President Ronald Reagan delivered Memorial Day remarks outside of Arlington on two occasions during his presidency. President Bill Clinton spoke at the Arlington ceremony every year.
ABC News' Jon Garcia, Ann Compton, and Yunji de Nies contributed to this report.