President Joe Biden stood up for the ideals of democracy and took time to reflect on the loss of his son Beau Biden and the loss of families across the country who lost loved ones in the military during a speech Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery Monday.
Looking abroad, the president also paid tribute to defenders of Ukraine fighting against a Russian invasion and American servicemen who died during the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He, however, made no mention of recent military deaths under his administration – including the 13 servicemen killed in Afghanistan in a suicide bombing as the army withdrew from the country.
“Ladies and gentlemen, remember today and we reaffirm that freedom is worth the sacrifice,” Biden said after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Democracy is not perfect. It was never perfect. But it’s worth fighting for – if necessary, it’s worth dying for.
On the seventh anniversary of his eldest’s death, the president continued: ‘Remembrance Day is always a day of pain and pride. We all know that, setting here. Jill and I know that. Today is the day my son died.
Beau Biden, who had served as a major in the Delaware National Guard, died after a battle with brain cancer on May 30, 2015, when his father served as vice president.
“He didn’t die in the line of duty, he came back from Iraq with cancer. It was the horrible cancer that stole us from him – and he from us. But still, it still feels like Memorial Day to me – I don’t see it as it was the last time I held his hand, but the day I pinned his bars on him as a second lieutenant’ , said the president.
He went on to say that the “7,054 American military personnel” who “gave their lives during 20 years of our Iraqi and Afghan conflicts” and “countless others who have died from service-related injuries and illnesses” should serve reminder that “there is nothing low risk or low cost in war.
Biden in particular pointed to the still-unknown scale of military fatalities resulting from toxic combustion fireplaces — a personal matter for the president, who has repeatedly said it was a contributing factor to his son’s untimely death.
During his speech, he also commented on the war in Ukraine – which Vladimir Putin has now been waging for more than three months – saying the Eastern European country’s struggle is a reminder of the cost of freedom.
President Joe Biden participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia on May 30
In addition to marking Memorial Day on Monday, the president is also reflecting on the seventh anniversary of his military veteran son’s death from brain cancer.
Biden was accompanied at the wreath laying ceremony by his wife, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris (center) and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley was also present.
Before arriving for the ceremony, the president met with Gold Star families who had lost loved ones in the military
Before Biden spoke, Austin and Milley also delivered brief remarks during the ceremony.
His speech included references to past American conflicts as well as Ukraine’s current struggle against a Russian invasion.
“At this moment, as a war of aggression is once again being waged by Russia to stifle the freedom and democracy – the very culture and identity – of neighboring Ukraine, we see so clearly… freedom was never free,” Biden said.
“Democracy has always needed champions. Today, in the eternal struggle for democracy and freedom, Ukraine and its people are on the front line to save their nation.
“But their fight is part of a larger fight that unites everyone. it is a fight in which so many patriots whose eternal rest is here in these sacred lands have participated. A battle between democracy and autocracy – between freedom and repression, between appetites and ambition.
In a veiled blow to Republican legislatures’ crackdown on individual freedoms like abortion and the right to vote, Biden called “the few who still seek to dominate the lives and freedoms of many” in “a battle for the essential democratic principles – the rule of law, free and fair elections, freedom to speak and write and to assemble. Freedom of worship as we understand it, freedom of the press – essential principles for a free society.’
Biden was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Earlier, the president and first lady hosted a Memorial Day breakfast at the White House for Austin and his wife Charlene Austin, Milley and his wife Hollyanne Milley, the second couple and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
About 140 other people also attended, made up of members of various veterans organizations, other military service organizations, military family organizations, Pentagon officials and other administration officials.
The president started Memorial Day with a visit to his late son’s grave – the seventh anniversary of Beau Biden’s death at 46 after a battle with brain cancer.
In addition to serving in the military, he also served as Delaware’s state attorney general from 2007 until a few months before his death on May 30, 2015.
The President and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden were seen bringing a bouquet of pink flowers to the grave early Monday morning after attending a half-hour church service in Wilmington.
They were accompanied by their grandchildren and Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens.
The Bidens regularly attend Sunday Mass at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine, where Beau Biden is buried.
Later, the President and First Lady will attend the annual wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
The first couple will also be joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del., Monday, May 30
They were seen carrying a bouquet of pink roses, which they apparently placed at Beau Biden’s grave
The Bidens attended church for about half an hour on Monday, accompanied by their grandchildren and the president’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens
There, Biden will deliver his Memorial Day speech, then later be joined by Gold Star families to plant a magnolia in honor of the lives lost.
The president frequently brings up his late eldest son, a military veteran, in speeches and conversations – especially when talking about military service or personal loss.
Last week, hours after a gunman massacred 19 children and their two teachers at a Texas elementary school, Biden sympathized with grieving families, saying losing a son or daughter was “like being ripped off a piece of his soul”.
“There’s a hollow in your chest, you feel like you’re being sucked into it. And can never get out. Suffocating. And it’s never quite the same,” the president said.
He spent his Sunday mourning with these families in person on a day trip to Uvalde, Texas alongside Dr. Jill Biden.
Back at the White House on Monday morning, Biden was asked if the visit had motivated him to work harder on gun control.
“I was pretty motivated the whole way through. The people who were victimized, their families, spent three hours and 40 minutes with me,” the president said.
Beau Biden was a former major in the Delaware National Guard, serving in Iraq while his father was vice president
“They’ve been waiting all this time. Some arrived two hours early. The pain is palpable. I think a lot of things are unnecessary. I will keep pushing.
Their first stop on Sunday was the makeshift memorial at Robb Elementary School, where an 18-year-old with an assault rifle locked himself in a classroom and began shooting for nearly an hour for the police were waiting outside.
He walked for several minutes along the school board lined with flowers, candles and written tributes to read the names of the victims and, at one point, wiped away a tear.
The president also hugged the school’s principal, Mandy Gutierrez, and at one point was seen in conversation while holding hands with Dr. Jill Biden, Gutierrez and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin.
He ended the trip meeting with survivors and families of victims for more than three hours, followed by a face-to-face meeting with first responders from the tight-knit Southwest Texas community.