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America Honors War Dead; Massacre in Syria; Americans Linked to International Murder Mystery; Romney, Obama and "The Vision Thing"

Aired May 28, 2012 - 16:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: America honors its war dead with solemn ceremonies, but a bit of politics seeps into the Memorial Day observance, as the commander in chief touts his record against veiled criticism from his would-be successor.

A town in Syria unknown to most of the outside world, until a shocking slaughter, 100 people killed, about half of them children -- an urgent new call to stop the carnage.

And two Americans detained in Tokyo, as police investigate the strangling death of an Irish exchange student.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama today paid tribute to America's war dead, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He then spoke at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the 50th anniversary of That bloody conflict.

Across the country, Mitt Romney led a tribute at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in San Diego. For both men, it was a somber bake -- excuse me -- break from the election campaign, but politics has a way of seeping into some of the most somber of occasions.

CNN's White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is standing by, but first let's go to CNN's Dana Bash.

And, Dana, a slight political undertone to the ceremonies there in San Diego. They were both putting wreaths out at these ceremonies, but at the same time, both men gave some speeches that might have had some politics mixed in there as well.


Well, for Mitt Romney, the lines that you're so familiar with, following him around, the ones really directly slamming the president, those were not there. But you didn't have to read too far between the lines to hear his campaign pitch.


BASH (voice-over): A solemn moment in San Diego marking Memorial Day, a traditional tribute to fallen troops. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We dedicate ourselves to strength and to preserving the freedom for which they gave their lives and walked in harm's way.

BASH: Event organizers tell CNN they instructed Mitt Romney not to make political statements. He didn't attack the president, but did offer a not-so-subtle contrast. At a time of defense cuts, he wants a strong military.

ROMNEY: We choose that course in America not so that we just win wars, but so we can prevent wars, because a strong America is the best deterrent to war there ever has been invented.

BASH: For a Republican challenger five months away from Election Day, there is no such thing as a politics-free zone. Just look at who the former governor with no military or foreign policy experience chose to join him, his old rival and war hero John McCain. Clearly here to bolster Romney's foreign policy credentials, McCain ignored the no-politicking edict.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I especially 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, Governor Mitt Romney.

BASH: But McCain did avoid his harsh criticism from earlier this weekend of the way the president has handled violence in Syria here on "FOX News Sunday."

MCCAIN: This administration has a feckless foreign policy which abandons American leadership.

BASH: After news broke of the horrific massacre in Syria, killing women and children, Romney echoed Obama's criticism.

"Obama can no longer ignore calls from congressional leaders in both parties to take more assertive steps. The United States should work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves," said Romney.

Despite the commander in chief-like imagery here, and help from McCain, polls suggest Romney has a long way to go in that department; 52 percent of Americans say Obama can better handle the job of commander in chief, with only 36 percent for Romney.

Then again, campaign 2012 is not about foreign policy; it's all about the economy, and there the two men are virtually tied. One thing candidates all have in common, protesters at their events, but only Romney has someone willing to say this.



BASH: Now, as for Romney, he mostly told stories about the men he called heroes, including John McCain, but also threw some red meat to the largely military crowd.

He promised not to shrink the U.S. military and, Jim, he said that would follow the pathway of Europe.

ACOSTA: And something tells we're going to get to a much more overt style of campaign politics...

BASH: Yes, minutes away, right?

ACOSTA: Midnight tonight, we will get back to the day after Memorial Day.

Dana Bash, thank you.

Even as the president pays tribute to America's fallen and highlights the winding down of current wars, new world crises threaten to spark more military conflicts abroad.

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Dan, what can you tell us?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, to be fair, the president today did spend much of his time during his remarks talking about the sacrifice that the men and women of the armed services have given to this country over the years.

He also talked about the pledge to support those veterans here on the home front and their family members as well. But the president also touched on some themes that we have heard out there on the campaign trail, when he was touting his foreign policy record.

But there are still a lot of hot spots out there, global hot spots that seem to be pushing diplomacy to the limit.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Honoring fallen war heroes, President Obama laid a wreath at to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and met privately at the White House with Gold Star Families who have lost loved ones in combat, a solemn day, even as the president used the moment to tout his foreign policy achievements.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the first time in nine years, Americans are not fighting and dying in Iraq.

We are winding down the war in Afghanistan and our troops will continue to come home.

LOTHIAN: But serious global challenges remain, raising the prospect of future military action, North Korea and rocket tests, Iran and nuclear ambitions, Syria with endless violence, a leader unwilling to go.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: And I think the military option should be considered and I think that -- but my preference, of course, always as the senior military leader would be that the international community could find ways of increasing the pressure on Assad to do the right thing and step aside.

LOTHIAN: There's mounting pressure on Syria after the massacre of dozens of children in Hula. Russia and China, holdouts in U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at Assad, criticize the violence, but stop short of condemning the government.

The so-called Annan peace plan seems to be going nowhere. So the former U.N. secretary-general flew to Damascus in a last-ditch effort to salvage the plan. White House aides say the window for a diplomatic solution is narrowing, but Middle East experts caution a military operation in Syria could have broader consequences.

STEPHEN COOK, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Unlike Libya, there is more of a risk of escalation, of instability spilling out across borders and more difficult for U.S. and allied air crews to get after and destroy Syrian air defenses.


LOTHIAN: Now, as the Obama administration looks for that diplomatic solution, they're focused on a possible model of Yemen, according to White House aides, where you have some sort of negotiated settlement, a leader steps down peacefully, and then you begin that Democratic process.

Russia could be a big factor in an option like this. But aides point out that every country is different. But, nonetheless, they see this as a possible peaceful solution -- Jim.

ACOSTA: That's a pretty optimistic scenario, Dan, if that could possibly work out.

But let me ask you, what are they saying at the White House about some of this criticism coming in from John McCain and some of the other Republicans out there criticizing the president on this issue of Syria, John McCain calling the president's policy feckless?

LOTHIAN: Right. Well, they certainly believe that the president's policy here is solid, not going directly after John McCain, but instead focusing on Syria and Assad, specifically calling the violence that we have seen there -- quote -- "horrific," a White House National Security Council spokesperson saying -- quote -- "These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime."

ACOSTA: And the challenge continues.

Dan Lothian live at the White House. Thank you, Dan.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first significant American deployment in Vietnam and the start of a bloody, traumatic decade for the United States.

President Obama went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial today to launch an effort to honor that war's veterans.


OBAMA: And one of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam -- most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there. You were often blamed for a war you didn't start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor.

You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that's why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.


And so a central part of this 50th anniversary will be to tell your story as it should have been told all along. It's another chance to set the record straight. That's one more way we keep perfecting our Union -- setting the record straight. And it starts today. Because history will honor your service, and your names will join a story of service that stretches back two centuries.

Let us tell the story of a generation of service members -- every color, every creed, rich, poor, officer and enlisted -- who served with just as much patriotism and honor as any before you.


ACOSTA: And it's hard to imagine, but it bears repeating -- 58,209 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War.

A shocking new escalation in Syria. We will give you a closer look at the massacre which left 100 people dead in one town, almost half of them children.

Two Americans arrested in Tokyo, as authorities investigate the strangling death of an exchange student.

Plus, can you imagine being at this outdoor wedding when Tropical Storm Beryl showed up as an unwelcome guest? Talk about a wedding crasher. A storm update is next.


ACOSTA: Imagine being at this outdoor wedding when Tropical Storm Beryl slammed into Jacksonville, Florida.

Since then, torrential rain and powerful winds have left thousands in the dark in Florida and Georgia and forced the cancellation of some Memorial Day ceremonies. Dangerous surf conditions are expected up the Southeast coast. But Beryl is no longer a tropical storm -- thank goodness.

Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is at the CNN weather center. And, Jacqui, it is only May. It's a little early for all of this, isn't it?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And to have two storms, you know, if we get one more developed by June 1, that would be a report. So, it is a little early in the game to see something like that. Thankfully, Beryl wasn't any stronger, but still, the timing just terrible for those holiday travelers out there.

Now, the storm has weakened to a tropical depression and just kind of hovering right here along the Florida, Georgia state line there. And the worst of the rainfall at this time is kind of sandwiched in the Big Bend area here, to the south of I-10 and to the west of I-75. In fact, Louisville was reporting four inches of rain just in the past four hours. So, the big concern, not really the winds here, but we're worried about the flooding, and that is going to continue over the next couple of days. We have also seen some strong thunderstorms along the I-5 corridor.

Here are a couple of the rainfall totals we've seen so far. The highest number we could find was Palm Coast, Florida, at 5.5 inches. But when we put additional rain on top of that, it does become a big concern. So, this the forecast of rainfall over the next 48 hours, and when you start to see some of those pinks and those whites in there, that's three to six inches on top of what your already had.

And the reason why there'll be so much more rain, Jim, is that the storm is going to be very slowly up to the north and then making a right hand turn. It's just going to stick with us through at least Wednesday, before it finally exits back over open water. It will intensify once again believe it or not, and then it's not going to bother anybody after that.

So, another couple of days to go, rip currents will be a problem, along with those flood and rain -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Keep those umbrellas handy in the Southeast. Jacqui Jeras, thanks so much.

There is disagreement over what caused a massive explosion in the capital of Kenya today.

Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Mary, what do you have?


Well, Kenya's prime minister is blaming terrorists for the blast that injured at least 28 people at a shopping center in downtown Nairobi. The police on the scene say they suspect an electrical fire was the cause. And sources at a hospital say the injuries are not consistent with a grenade or bomb blast.

In Egypt, a representative of the country's old guard will face off against a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in the runoff election for the presidency. The head of Egypt's election commission says the Muslim Brotherhood candidate seen there on the left was the top vote getter in the first round of elections last night. He'll go head to head with the second place candidate, a former prime minister seen on the runoff to be held in about three weeks.

And Bay Area residents are making the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Festivities were highlighted by a fireworks show last night. Also include concerts, dance performances and a boat parade. The bridge linking San Francisco to Marion County opened to vehicles on May 28th, 1937, about four years after construction began.

What a beautiful sight. Truly an American icon.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. Happy Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge.

Mary, thank you so much.

SNOW: Sure.

ACOSTA: Two Americans are caught up in an international murder mystery unfolding in Japan. We will tell you what happened.

And wait until you se the video of an 81-year-old sky diver. That's right, 81 years old, who slips out of her harness in midair.


ACOSTA: Two Americans are in custody in Japan, possibly link to the strangling death of an Irish exchange student.

CNN's Kyung Lah has more from Tokyo.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An unfolding international murder mystery here in Tokyo. A young Irish exchange student who just celebrated her 21st birthday found unconscious and unresponsive at this Tokyo Shinjuku district hotel. She later died.

Tokyo metropolitan police say 21-year-old Nicola Furlong was killed by suffocation by cervical compression or strangulation. The Kyoto News Agency says that Furlong and an Irish friend went to a Nicki Minaj concert Wednesday night when they're approached by two American men.

Police say the two Irish women and two American men arrived here at the hotel around 1:00 a.m. by taxi. Three hours later, a hotel guest complained of a loud noise coming from a room. When hotel workers got to that room, they heard someone saying in English, she's not breathing.

Police say Furlong was unconscious. A 19-year-old American man the only other person in the room.

The Furlong family spokesman, a priest, tells CNN by telephone from Ireland that this loss in incomprehensible.


FATHER JIM FITZPATRICK, NICOLA FURLONG'S PASTOR (via telephone): Everybody is a little devastated in the local area because this section of the parish to which Nicola belongs is a small end of the parish only 300 to 400 families in total. So, I mean, all of those 300 or 400 families would know each other quite well.

When something of any nature happens, it has a huge impact, and a death of a young person especially, everyone knows and everybody involved or concerned.

LAH: Police arrested the two American men. They are in these cars being transferred from the police station to an undisclosed location. Police say they are both entertainers -- a 19-year-old dancer -- a 19-year-old is considered a minor here in Japan -- and 23- year-old James Blackstone. He is a dancer.

Neither man has been directly charged in Furlong's murder. Rather, they are being held for fondling Furlong's friend in the back of a taxi. Meanwhile, police are trying to investigate who may have killed Furlong.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


ACOSTA: Thank you, Kyung.

Some Republicans are now saying they don't know who Mitt Romney is, how much of a problem is that? And what about President Obama's vision for a second term? We'll talk about that in today's strategy session.

We'll also discuss Romney's decision to appear on the campaign trail with Donald Trump. One prominent commentator says the costs outweigh the benefits.

And later, what would you do if you were skydiving and slipped out of your harness. Well, you can ask this man. We'll talk about that, coming up.


ACOSTA: First President Bush once called it the vision thing, can this election's candidates stop their sniping and start telling just what they plan to do after November?

Joining me now for our today's strategy session, our CNN political contributors Hilary Rosen and Will Cain.

And, Hilary, you know, this story on "Politico" caught our eye today. I want to talk to you about it, because this question has come up, I can tell you, out on the campaign trail, and that is what is Mitt Romney's vision should he become president of the United States? And this piece in "Politico" mentions what Chris Chocola, the president of the conservative Club for Growth has to say. Let's put this onscreen. It's a quote here.

"I don't know what he'll do on anything," says Chocola. "And that's the concern that people have always had is that you don't know what Mitt Romney is going to do."

I guess this is serving up a Memorial Day softball, Hilary.


ACOSTA: I guess, is that too surprising at this point? We are coming out of the primary process, isn't there enough time to lay out a vision?

ROSEN: Look, you know, I think Mitt Romney's strategy has been to complain about President Obama. But one of the things that candidates have to do is actually articulate what they're for, he managed to get through the entire primary without having to do that, all he had to do was stand up straight and spend a lot of money because it was such a clown show in so many ways. Now, he's running against someone with a lot of vision and with a good record. So, I think that the American people are going to demand this of Mitt Romney and we don't know much about him.

And personally think that once people actually hear what he has planned, you know, he's going to repeal Dodd-Frank, regulating the banks, you know, that protects consumers. He's going to repeal all the good parts of health care reform, not just the parts that are controversial. He's going to cut education spending and investment and child care and Medicare and all of those things like come out with it, Mitt, that's what the American people want to know.

ACOSTA: Now, Will Cain, I will tell you, I did talk to a Romney advisor today, who said, now, wait a minute, he did put out a 59-point economic plan last fall.

And by the way, where is President Obama's vision? Because you have heard that in political circles, wait the minute, the president hasn't really laid out what he's going to do in a second term. What do you think, Will?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Hilary, now Jim served you a softball, expects you to knock out the part. In my humble opinion, you missed a little right there. So there's a reason you can list all those things and paint them in a negative light, Hilary.

It's because Mitt Romney has put out some agenda items, pretty bold ones I might add such a 20 percent marginal tax break cut across the board, reforming Medicare into a voucher system, putting a federal constitutional cap on spending.

These are pretty big. Now does that qualify as having a vision? It seems like vision as we're d defining it has more to do with kind of offering something more exciting or like a bumper sticker like hope and change and that becomes how you define someone's vision.

But you're talking about specifics, what you would do for the economy and how you might be president? Mitt Romney has given you some serious, serious ideas and you don't like them, Hilary, but he's given them.

ROSEN: Actually, I'm going to agree with you on this point, which is that he has laid out a vision to a certain degree and that vision is essentially big tax cuts for the wealthy, severe budget cuts that affect the middle class and the under insured.

You know, so his vision for America is something that's quite unpleasant. And you're right, maybe that's something that I don't like, but really, I don't think he spends any time talking about it.

His 59-point plan, Jim, really was 59 points of complaint about president Obama. Not much specifics. And I think that the more he talks about what he's going to do, the more people will reject him.

ACOSTA: Let's ask about President Obama's vision, because in the last several weeks, he's come out with attack after attack after attack on Mitt Romney. He's been sort of dealing with the three Bs, Bain, bullying and, you know, billionaires. And he's been sort of on the receiving end on a lot of the attacks in the Obama campaign. Where is President Obama's vision of things, Hilary?

ROSEN: You know, it's Memorial Day, so in honor of truth of the American way, I'm going to let you have some of this because I think the president's fallen a little short in sharing the positive story.

What I think I've seen over the last couple of weeks is the president out there in commencement addresses. We saw it today with his Memorial Day speech. He actually has a lot of great things to talk about. He still has dreams for this country.

But they have gotten a little lost in this back and forth fighting that the campaigns are doing and I think that it's going to be his challenge over the next couple of months to talk about sort of the big picture of back in the aspirational tones and aspirational messages that people really want to hear from their leaders.

ACOSTA: Will, let me ask you about this event that is coming up tomorrow in Las Vegas. A lot of people have been talking about it over the past several days. Donald Trump is going to be at a fundraiser with Mitt Romney in Las Vegas.

And you know, a lot of people are questioning the wisdom of that, after all, the Donald has questioned the president's origin and he's even made some comments to that effect in recent days.

Are you comfortable with Donald Trump hosting and being at a fundraiser with Mitt Romney there in Las Vegas?

CAIN: No, no, just flat out no.

ACOSTA: Does that seem like trouble to you?

CAIN: Yes, absolutely. I don't see -- look, it's easy when the battle is often between George Will and Donald Trump, so side with George Will, who called Donald Trump an ignoramus and doesn't see the cost benefit on aligning yourself, Mitt Romney with Donald Trump.

I find myself on that side. I don't see the cost benefit payoff of aligning yourself with Donald Trump. I do think that, you know, candidates aren't responsible for all the views of their surrogates.

But that being said, I still don't think it's worth it, there's no need to have Donald Trump in the sphere, we can define as how about just politics in general.

ACOSTA: Hillary, Donald Trump referred to George Will as overrated. George Will referred to Donald Trump as an ignoramus. Who's right in that debate?

ROSEN: Well, of course, George Will is right, I think as a practical matter, Mitt Romney is afraid to push Donald Trump aside says almost too much about Mitt Romney. And who cares about Donald Trump. We care about this guy we are electing and he needs to talk about where he stands with respect to supporting Trump or not.

ACOSTA: All right, Hilary Rosen, Will Cain, I hope you enjoyed those Memorial Day softballs. Thanks for joining us today and I hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.

A town in Syria, unknown to most of the outside world until a shocking slaughter, 100 people killed, about half of them children, will it change the direction of the conflict?

And the right to fight, two Army reservists sued the Pentagon for excluding women from combat.


ACOSTA: There were more burials in the Syrian town of Hula. An attack there last week resulted in the deaths of more than 100 civilians, almost half of them children.

We must warn you we're about to show you some images of those dead children and these images are disturbing and not appropriate for all viewers given the nature of the attack and the number of dead civilians including these children.

Showing a few images is appropriate and necessary to convey the extent of this crime against humanity. Here is CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Hula, more burials, more than 100 dead, so many, so many in one day and such grief and such rage. Forty nine of the victims pose no threat to anybody, least of all the regime in Damascus. They were children, not yet 10 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My God, I watched the dead bodies of nine children. One was less than nine months old. Why are they treating us like animals? We're humans. Did the infant carry an RPG? Was he a fighter? He was a baby. He had a pacifier in his mouth. What was his guilt? Why was he killed?

JAMJOOM: Opposition activists accused the Syrian government and its thuggish militias of carrying this massacre. The Syrian government blamed terrorist for the killings and called the allegations against them a tsunami of lies.

JIHAD MAKDISSI, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY: We absolutely deny that the government armed forces had any responsibility in committing such massacre and we strongly condemn the terrorist massacre.

JAMJOOM: The United Kingdom's foreign minister said the world had heard that line from Syria and its backers before.

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: It is a familiar tactic of the Assad regime to blame others for what is happening in the country to try to get out of the responsibility for the scale of death and destruction.

JAMJOOM: In Hula, more amateur video attesting to that death of destruction. Here the bodies of more than a score of women and children, stuffed into a small room.

And these pictures are the ones we have warned you about, pictures agonizing to watch. Children's bodies mangled and bloodied. Some with skulls torn open.

U.N. observers arriving on Saturday to begin their investigation found a mass grave. With no power to stop the violence, they issued yet another call for calm and reason.

MARTIN GRIFFITH, DEPUTY HEAD OF U.N. MISSION, SYRIA: The first thing to do is to stop the fighting, stop the violence so that we can then get on to helping the wounded and to those who lost their lives.

JAMJOOM: And as outrage continues to mount around the world, the finger pointing goes on in a massacre hard to comprehend for its callous brutality. The young continue to pay the price for a ceasefire written on paper only. Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Beirut.


ACOSTA: And CNN's Arwa Damon has been covering the crisis in Syria since it began. She joins us now from New York.

Arwa, we hear a lot of talk from the international community, but not much real action, and you can see in those images there, there is a need for some kind of action on the international stage.

What is it going to take? Is the world basically powerless right now to just watching this happen?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is exactly what it seems to be and at this point in time, there is no concrete plan to try to bring about an end to the violence because so many have declared that Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan is effectively dead and there is absolutely no plan B.

The only thing that happened following that massacre was a statement by the U.N. Security Council, unanimous statement condemning what had taken place. But bar that, all we have been hearing since then is much of the same rhetoric.

Kofi Annan arriving in Damascus calling for an investigation into what took place, saying that the bloodshed absolutely must stop. But again, there is no real way forward that is actually going to allow that to take place.

Russia continues to not necessarily back the Assad regime, but is not calling for the president to step down. It is hoping for some sort of internal way forward, but that is not going to happen.

There's been so much bloodshed, the conflict is just so polarized that at this stage it most certainly seems that Syria is barrelling down this course of an all-out war.

ACOSTA: You have reported extensively within Syria for CNN. You have contacts in the country. Are the anti-Assad forces optimistic or are they discouraged? I mean, they seem powerless as well to stop this kind of bloodshed.

DAMON: They are incredibly demoralized. They are disgusted with the international community at the lack of real action. They are appalled by what they hear. Various global leaders say whether they are for or against the Assad regime.

The comments coming out of Russia where effectively the Russian foreign minister was also laying the blame on the opposition for the violence saying that it takes two to tango, but what's happening in Syria looks more like a disco.

Those words are quite simply shocking to those out there day in and day out who are losing their lives. But all that being said, there's still this fundamental determination is that they're not going to give up.

For them, this most certainly is a fight until the very end. They're willing, as we have been seeing, to give up everything to see this regime fall.

ACOSTA: Arwa Damon, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Just days before Americans gather to honor their war dead, two army reserves launched a lawsuit against the Pentagon for excluding women from combat roles.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is looking into this right to fight issue. Chris, as we remember the fallen on this Memorial Day, it bears repeating that women are fighting and dying for this country as well.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, by the hundreds in the last 10 years, Jim. I mean, this case really takes an interesting tack, because they're not going through the military.

These women are taking their case to the federal court and accusing the government of violating their constitutional right because they're being excluded from certain positions solely because they're women.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): They've gone hunting for hidden bombs and walk foot patrols in war zones. Women have been killed and taken captive. But they're still banned from combat jobs like infantry.

COLONEL ELLEN HARING, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: It stigmatizes women service as not as important as male service.

LAWRENCE: Colonel Ellen Haring is one of two female soldiers suing the Defense Department to allow women access to combat jobs. Haring is a mother of three with nearly 30 years in the Army, but coming out of West Point, she couldn't get the Army's elite combat training, like ranger school.

HARING: So we're excluded from branches that allow career progression to the highest ranks.

LAWRENCE: Only 3 percent of Marine Corps generals are women and only 4 percent of the Army's. The Pentagon is reviewing combat restrictions and recently opened about 14,000 jobs to women. But officials are wary of going too far too fast.

GEORGE LITTLE, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We need time, experience and careful review to ensure that we do so in a way that maximizes the safety and privacy of all service members.

LAWRENCE: More than a quarter million women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. But online some are criticizing the women's lawsuit.

Quote, "I don't see how two women made to it the senior levels of leadership with their careered hampered because they are women. What were they held back from in?"

And in Farah Province, Afghanistan, Marines were slowed down and cut their patrol shorter to facilitate the female engagement team that was assigned to them because they couldn't keep up.

(on camera): Another argument is that women just aren't as physically strong as men, that a woman couldn't drag a 200-pound soldier off a battlefield.

HARING: There are certainly small men that could handle the same physical strains as many women. So establish one standard, one physical requirement standard. Men or women whoever meet it can serve in those positions.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): As a colonel, Haring knows that her chance to kick down doors on foot patrol is long gone. HARING: More importantly for me is that it opens up opportunities for women broadly.


LAWRENCE: And we're going to find out what happens next pretty soon. The government has about 60 days to respond, most likely it will argue this case has no merit and ask the judge to throw out us.

But, Jim, this lawsuit really is the first of its kind. So we're going to have to keep an eye on it to see where it goes from here.

ACOSTA: It's a test case. Chris Lawrence, thanks so much.

An 81-year-old sky diver ships out of harness in midair. We will show you the dramatic video next.


ACOSTA: An 81-year-old woman is the star of a new video that is sweeping the internet and for good reason. She went sky diving for her birthday. But she got more excitement than she bargained for.

Mary Snow, this is a gripping story and she joins us now to tell us about it. Mary, I can't believe in the first place that she went sky diving, but I guess she did and she lived to tell the tale.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Have you seen this videotape?

ACOSTA: I have not. I wanted to watch this as you aired it so my response could be authentic.

SNOW: All right, so brace yourself. It really is a heart stopping. This videotape of Lavern Everett skydiving where her harness almost slipped off was taken over a year ago.

But it wasn't until now that her sister posted it on YouTube apparently so other relatives could see it. It's now gone viral.


SNOW (voice-over): Laverne Everett's skydiving adventure started off with smiles.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy birthday.

EVERETT: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this something you always wanted to do?

EVERETT: For years. SNOW: But things took a dramatic turn after that and Lavern is shrugging off terrifying moments of her skydive that was videotaped. When it was time to jump, she looks like she doesn't want to get out of the plane.

But she told Station KOBR, that wasn't the case that, her bad knees gave out.

(on camera): Some people look at that video and think she's being forced out of that plane.

EVERETT: No, I don't look at it that way. He knew how bad I wanted to jump.

SNOW (voice-over): Once Lavern and an instructor did jump, it was clear something went very wrong.

EVERETT: The upper harness came off, it slipped down, I didn't know anything, only to hold on that's all.

SNOW: The parachute opened and she landed safely, but that video has taken off, going viral.

(on camera): This is just a second?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is another seconds, yes.

SNOW: It probably felt like a lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It absolutely did.

SNOW: Kenny Pugh owns a skydiving company in New Jersey. As an outsider, he says it's hard to know exactly what went wrong, but it appears he says from the start that the harness wasn't secured properly. And he says, while scary, this kind of thing happening is rare.

KENNY PUGH, SKYDIVE NEW JERSEY: As you exit the airplane, it's in a stable manner, per what we're trained and the manufacturer recommends and requires, you know, we're stable within five seconds and the chute is out.

SNOW: We contacted the company where Lavern did her sky dive. A representative told us that the video is over a year old and that no one got hurt and the landing was fine.

As for Lavern, she said at the time of the dive, she didn't even know exactly what happened because her shirt had covered her face. Now she's seeking another adventure.

EVERETT: Well, I never have ridden in a race car.


SNOW: Now while Lavern may have moved on, the FAA is now looking into the sky dive and also into the California company behind it since it became aware of the video last week.

The FAA says it has proposed separately $900,000 in civil penalties against the parachute center for violations unrelated to Lavern Everett's jump.

When asked about those fines, the company said it had no comment. Jim, I don't think we're going to see her sitting around baking cookies any time soon.

ACOSTA: I don't think so. Put her in that race car, just make sure she buckles up. Mary Snow, thanks so much.

A series of alleged terror plots is raising questions about whether the Iranian government is involved in a broad assassination campaign. An in depth report is just ahead.

But first, the end of an era for a car, so many love to hate. That's coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is actually the second 2107 we had to hire, because the first one broke down.



ACOSTA: In the Soviet era, the Lada classic sedan was a status symbol and today's Russia, you might see this clunky car parked next to a Maserati or a Ferrari. Like the communist, time has passed by, but after four decades, the Lada is halting production.

CNN's Phil Black has the story from Moscow.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Moscow today, you can't escape the Soviet Union, the symbols of its power, it's traditions and it's legacies are everywhere, including on its roads where you'll still find the peak of Soviet car building, the Lada classic series.

(on camera): This is actually the second the Lada 2107 we had to hire because the first one broke down.

(voice-over): Classics are exploited and they're famous around the world for being cheap, poor quality and inspiring bad jokes.

(on camera): What do you call a Lada at the top of a hill? A miracle. What do you call a Lada driver who says he has a speeding ticket? A liar and how do you double the value of a Lada? You fill the tank.

(voice-over): For 42 years, Russian state carmaker has been turning out Ladas that look just like the 1966 car they're based on. When CNN visited this plant 15 years ago, it's managers admitted the cars were already long out of debt.

They continue to sell largely because the price is as little as $4,000 and drivers had almost no choice. But as the Russian market flooded with international brands, sales dropped. So Lada is now finally killing off the classic.

(on camera): One highly opinionated British motorist declares this is the worst car in the world. It is certainly a unique driving experience. Despite poor ratings, safety, comfort, quality, speed, the Lada classic series continues to enjoy a very special place in the hearts of many Russians.

(voice-over): Lada and its international partners are now focusing on producing modern affordable cars and they're hoping to maintain a large slice of the Russian market, which is predicted to become Europe's biggest within a few years.

But the classics won't disappear quickly, there are millions of them on Russia's roads and like other Soviet hangovers, they've shown they can last.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.