REPEAT - Crowds swoon, but Prince Harry is all business

WASHINGTON (AP) - The throngs swooned, but Prince Harry was having none of it.

The British soldier-prince is spending most of his week in the US honouring the wounded and the dead of war, a salute that began on Thursday at a land-mine exhibition in Congress at the side of one of America's most storied wounded warriors, Senator John McCain.

Accorded heartthrob treatment on Capitol Hill, the prince was all royal business.

As he entered the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building near the Capitol, the prince was greeted by a roar and shouts of "Harry!" from a crowd of about 500, nearly all of them women. They filled a roped-off hallway and stairway with a view of the exhibit, hoisting their mobile phones and tablets to get a picture. Prince Harry didn't visibly react except to give what appeared to be a polite wave.

Mr McCain, with a laugh, said he told Prince Harry "I've never seen, in all the years I've been here, such an unbalanced gender crowd." On Friday, he paid tribute at Arlington National Cemetery, walking through Section 60, resting place of many who died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The prince, who has served twice in Afghanistan, placed a wreath and note at the grave of an Army soldier who died there in 2010, Michael L. Stansbery Jr, 21, of Mount Juliet, Tennessee.

The note read: "To my comrades-in-arms of the United States of America, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. Captain Harry Wales."

He also planned to meet comrades in arms at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and fly to the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where more than 200 wounded servicemen and women from the US and Britain will compete.

Prince Harry also made a previously unannounced visit to the White House, surprising military mothers and their children at an afternoon tea with First Lade Michelle Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden's wife, Jill. The prince joined in helping the kids make Mother's Day gifts from tulip and rose bouquets, vegetable chips and edible dough jewelry.

For the prince, the Washington settings were a world away from the Afghanistan war zone where he recently served for 20 weeks as a co-pilot gunner in an Apache attack helicopter. It was just as far removed from his hijinks in a Las Vegas hotel room last summer, when fuzzy photos got out of a naked Harry playing strip billiards.

Mr McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam and tortured as a captive, said he told the prince that "he was probably a much better pilot than I was". As for the prince's reputation for cutting loose on occasion, Mr McCain joked that the British diplomatic reception and dinner later in the evening was sure to be a "wild and raucous affair".

It was a glittering one, at least, hosted by British Ambassador Peter Westmacott for about 30 guests after a reception for 170, many connected with the mine-clearing HALO Trust charity. Prince Harry sat between Ms Teresa Heinz, wife of Secretary of State John Kerry, and the ambassador's wife, Susie, for the dinner.

The prince spoke in support of the trust, a charity his late mother, Princess Diana, had held dear.

"My mother, who believed passionately in this cause, would be proud of my association with HALO," he said. "In her special way, she adopted it as her own. She would join me - along with all of you, I'm sure - in praising HALO for the amazing work that it has done over the past quarter-century, and in hoping that one day soon its humanitarian work will be done."

Lady Diana highlighted the trust's work when she was pictured wearing a face mask and protective clothing during a visit to a minefield being cleared by the organisation in Angola in 1997.

Her son said that at any one time, the group has 7,000 people deployed in the field, "striving to protect people and banish the fear that pervades the lives of millions around the world". Ms Fiona Willoughby, marketing manager of the trust, said the prince's tour of the trust's exhibit brings attention back to the issue.

"People have forgotten about it, and we think Prince Harry, following in his mother's footsteps, is a worthy cause and will raise the profile of what we are doing," she said.

Earlier on Capitol Hill, Prince Harry quizzed trust officials on mine-detection techniques and photos of amputees, keeping a somber if animated tone despite the excited gaggle held back from the exhibit area.

Prince Harry will also visit parts of New Jersey afflicted by Superstorm Sandy and stop for events in New York City before capping his visit by playing in the Sentebale Polo Cup match in Greenwich, Connecticut, on Wednesday.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.