Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the "central point" of a war story he told on the campaign trail last week as "absolutely accurate" after a report exposed a slew of incorrect details.
According to the Washington Post, Biden appeared to have "jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened" during a campaign stop in Hanover, New Hampshire, last Friday. He told the crowd about a Navy captain in Afghanistan who climbed down a ravine under fire to rescue a fellow service member who had been shot, later attempting to refuse a medal from the vice president because the man had died.
The Washington Post report — based on interviews with more than a dozen troops, commanders, and Biden campaign officials — traced the details of Biden’s recounting to three different tales of bravery. While Biden had awarded a medal to a brave soldier, it wasn’t the medal he said it was, the soldier didn’t do what Biden recounted, and the incident didn't occur where Biden said it had.
"I don't understand what they're talking about, but the central point is it was absolutely accurate what I said," Biden said of the Post's report in an interview with the South Carolina newspaper Post & Courier.
"I was making the point how courageous these people are, how incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we’ve lost,” he later told the Post's Jonathan Capehart. "I don’t know what the problem is. What is it that I said wrong?"
Biden, who was campaigning Thursday in the Palmetto State, told the newspaper that there are two war stories from Afghanistan he routinely tells, but denied he conflated the details.
The soldier who performed the ravine rescue was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama — Biden did not present him with a medal. Another story involved a soldier who braved Taliban fire to rescue a wounded soldier. He was given a Bronze Star by a general while Biden, a senator from Delaware at the time, looked on. The third story, according to the Post, involved a soldier who ran into a burning vehicle in an attempt to save a burning friend. He attempted to refuse, but was ultimately awarded a Bronze Star by the vice president. Over the years, the Post reported, Biden has mixed the details of these three stories, and his recounting has become more harrowing and less accurate.
The Washington Post reports that the soldier who initially didn't want the Bronze Star from the vice president — Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman — recalled the ceremony as a moving experience. "He has that look where his eyes can see into your eyes," the staff sergeant told the Washington Post. "I felt like he really understood."
"I think it's ridiculous," Biden told the Post & Courier. "The essence — that there's anything I said about that — that wasn't the essence of the story. The story was that he refused the medal because the fella he tried to save and risked his life saving died. That's the beginning, middle and end. The rest of you guys can take it and do what you want with it."