Washington: US President Donald Trump, in his July 4th address at the National Mall in Washington, commemorated the "extraordinary heritage" of America at a controversial event marked by the presence of tanks and military aircraft.
"As we gather this evening, in the joy of freedom, we remember that all share a truly extraordinary heritage. Together we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told, the story of America," he told the crowd on Thursday standing before the Lincoln Memorial at one end of the National Mall.
"Today, we come together as one nation with this very special salute to America," Efe news quoted the President as saying.
Fourth of July, a federal holiday in the US, commemorates the American Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776.
In his address at what the administration dubbed the "Salute to America" celebration, the President said: "We all share the same home, the same heart, and we are all made by the same almighty God."
Trump delivered his remarks before a group of VIPs - specifically big Republican donors and the relatives of active duty US military personnel and veterans - invited by the White House, which passed out tickets to specially selected guests to seat them in the front rows of the temporary bleachers erected in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
The President also promised that astronauts would go to the Moon in the near future and even plant the US flag on Mars, although he offered no further details, seconds after stating that "nothing is impossible" for Americans, a remarks that sparked hearty applause from the crowd.
Trump praised aerospace engineer Gene Kranz, who was present at the event and was in charge of the NASA mission to land on the Moon in 1969.
This is not the first time that Trump and/or Vice President Mike Pence have promised to return US astronauts to the Moon, and the NASA budget for fiscal year 2019 includes funds to get that project under way, although no timetable for missions of that kind have been established.
In his remarks, the President also spent time praising the achievements of each branch of the US military,
He started with the US Coast Guard and upon concluding his brief remarks about each service, aircraft from that branch did a flyover over the city.
The presidential 747 jet, Air Force One, also did a flyover of the area.
"And it is our incredible airman today who wield the most powerful weapon systems on the planet Earth. For over 65 years no enemy air force has managed to kill a single American soldier because the skies belong to the United States of America," Trump said of the Air Force.
About the Marines, Trump said: "That motto, Semper Fidelis - always faithful - burns in the soul of every marine, a sacred promise, the core has kept since the birth of our country. They are the elite masters of air, and land and sea, on battlefields all across the globe."
In recent days, there has been much criticism of Trump's plans to put on what he touted as the "show of a lifetime," with opponents of the July 4th event using military personnel and equipment raising concerns about the cost to taxpayers, the apparent politicization of what has traditionally been a non-partisan celebration and what many claim is the use of the military as a political prop.
The heavy security provided by the US Secret Service and metal barriers installed around the emblematic monument to Trump were criticized by thousands on social media, where they noted that up until this year it had been possible for the public to sit on the Memorial's steps during previous July 4th celebrations to watch the evening fireworks display.
Just like every year, thousands of families gathered at the National Mall during the day dressed in all sorts of outfits with the red, white and blue national colours, despite the intermittent rain that kept many more people away from the area, according to local media.
There were many different political opinions evident among the crowd, with many Trump supporters sporting red "Make America Great Again" baseball caps, while others wore t-shirts with the statement "Not my president" or similar sentiments.
However, the big attraction for anti-Trumpers was the presence of the huge "Baby Trump" balloon representing the president as a baby in a diaper, a balloon made famous in the protests against the President last year in London.
Shortly before Trump's address, two protesters were arrested outside the White House for burning an American flag.
One person was arrested for felony assault on a police officer and malicious burning, and the other was arrested for obstructing a police investigation and resisting arrest, according to the US Secret Service.