PONCE, Puerto Rico - Hillary Rodham Clinton ended a three-day campaign swing across Puerto Rico the same way many Americans marked Memorial Day - with family, friends, and a salute to the sacrifices of military men and women.

Clinton, who is trying despite the odds against her to catch up to Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, visited with Laura Santiago Suarez and Carlos Rivera Figueroa. Residents of a public housing project in Bayamon, the couple talked about their 21-year-old son, Jonathan, a soldier awaiting redeployment for another tour in Iraq.

Sitting in the living room of their apartment, Clinton said that once she was president, she would end the war so "you will not have to worry about him going back to Iraq." She also talked about the high cost of electricity and gas in Puerto Rico and said she wanted to see the island use solar and wind energy.

Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also reunited with a family that received federal aid after Hurricane Georges in 1998. As first lady, Hillary Clinton had visited them to see how the storm affected Puerto Ricans.

It is the Clintons' long history with Puerto Rico - and Hispanic voters in general - that gives Hillary Clinton a decided edge in the island's presidential primary Sunday. In addition, about a million Puerto Ricans live in her home state of New York.

But Clinton needs something approaching a mathematical miracle to catch Obama in the contest for the presidential nomination. Puerto Rico has 55 delegates at stake in its primary, but Obama has a total of 1,977 to Clinton's 1,779, according to the latest Associated Press tally. He was just 49 delegates short of the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination.

As Clinton wrapped up her visit to Puerto Rico, Obama marked Memorial Day in New Mexico, a battleground state in the general election.

Obama told a group of veterans that he did not know what it was like to walk into battle or lose a child in combat, since he had experienced neither. But he said he was committed to strengthening the military and improving veterans' services.

"As president of the United States, I will not let you down," he promised.

Obama said President Bush was asking U.S. troops to do too much with too little, such as interacting with civilians without the necessary translators and handling nation-building tasks that could be performed by the State Department and other agencies.

"We're asking them to be teachers, social workers, engineers, diplomats. That's not what they're trained to do," the Illinois senator said during a town hall-style meeting at the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.

Heavy use of private contractors, such as Blackwater Worldwide, also hurts troops, Obama said. Contractors are paid many times what U.S. personnel make, but they are not subject to the same rules and their misconduct inflames anti-American sentiment, he said. And when troops return home, the Bush administration does not do enough to aid those suffering from combat stress or help them get civilian jobs, Obama said.

In Puerto Rico, Clinton also spoke at a rally of union members from AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

"Puerto Rico should support Hillary because she understands you better," Bill Clinton told the crowd. The former president and the couple's daughter, Chelsea, will remain in Puerto Rico while Hillary Clinton heads to South Dakota and Montana, which hold the final primaries a week from today.

She ended her trip in San Juan at a ceremony to add names to a dark marble monument for Puerto Ricans who died fighting in the U.S. military.

The memorial, she told the crowd, showed why Puerto Ricans should be allowed a greater voice in the U.S. government. Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the general election for president.

"That is an injustice and an insult to the thousands and thousands of Puerto Ricans who have served America with heroism and honor," Clinton said.

Castro Criticism

Former President

Fidel Castro says Sen. Barack Obama's plan to maintain a trade embargo against Cuba will cause suffering on the island.

In a column

published in Cuba yesterday, Castro said that Obama was "the most advanced candidate in the presidential race," but that he had not dared to alter U.S. policy.

Obama told

the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami last week that he would maintain the embargo to push for change on the island.

- AP