Romney, McCain hold joint Memorial Day commemoration

SAN DIEGO — Mitt Romney commemorated Memorial Day by honoring the nation’s veterans in this military-heavy city on Monday while arguing that the times are perilous and ensuring the United States’ military might was vital for global peace.

“I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It’s not,” he said, listing threats such as Iran seeking a nuclear weapon, China trying to become a military superpower, Mexico grappling with drug cartels, and other international threats.

America could follow the lead of Europe and shrink the nation’s military to pay for social programs, or ensure that the nation’s military remains the strongest in the world.

“We choose that course for America, not just so that we can win wars, but so we can prevent wars,” he said, his voice rising. “Because a strong America is the best deterrent to war that ever has been invented.”

Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, appeared alongside Sen. John McCain, his one-time bitter rival in the 2008 presidential campaign. The event, under a cloudless sky outside a veterans’ museum, was largely apolitical – there were no Romney for president signs. The crowd, some 5,000 strong, waved small American flags as performers sang “Amazing Grace” and a bugler played “Taps.”

The most overt exception was when Romney was introduced by Will Hays, chairman of the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center, who said he hoped Romney would become the nation’s commander-in-chief. McCain also nodded toward the campaign.

“I am honored to be on the same stage with a great friend, a great man, a great governor, and a man who I believe is fully qualified to be commander-in-chief, Gov. Mitt Romney,” McCain said. “We are very grateful that Mitt is here. He believes in American exceptionalism, he believes that the 21st century will also be an American century. And I am confident of his leadership and I know of his support for veterans and their families.”

Romney, who leads President Obama in polling of veterans, lauded McCain for his military service and his years as a prisoner of war and called him a “national treasure.”

“Greatness in a people I believe is measured by the extent  to which they will give themselves to something bigger than themselves. To sacrifice for a cause of significance. And when that sacrifice of self, and for purpose and for principle greater than self, surpasses our everyday understanding by the widest margin, we call that greatness heroic,” Romney said. “We are a nation that has been formed and preserved by heroes. John McCain is one of them.”

Earlier, the two men honored veterans by laying wreaths outside the museum.

Despite the somber nature of the event, it was not without moments of levity. When a protester interrupted McCain, the Arizona senator watched as the man was escorted out of the event and said dryly, “Jerk.” The crowd roared in approval.

Both men have deep ties to the area. Romney has a beachfront manse north of here in La Jolla, where he spent the weekend with his family. One of his five sons, Craig, attended the event along with his two children.

McCain’s wife, Cindy, has been vacationing in the area since she was a child, recuperated here after she suffered a stroke several years ago and owns a home near the posh Hotel del Coronado.

McCain joked about Arizonans’, or “Zonies’,” proclivity to head to San Diego during the summer.

“All the Zonies are coming over and I want you to be nice to them for a change,” he said, before joking about the water the state receives from the Colorado River. “By the way, send back Arizona’s water that you’ve stolen.”