WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden paid tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, speaking in deeply personal terms about overcoming loss and the importance of upholding democratic values at home and abroad.
In addressing the sacrifice made by military families who have lost a loved one, Biden spoke at length about his personal experience of losing his son Beau Biden, a veteran of the Iraq war, who died of brain cancer six years ago Sunday.
“To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea how you are feeling," Biden said in remarks Monday after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, "Our losses are not the same, but that black hole you feel in your chest, like it is going to suck you in, it we get."
It was Biden’s first time as commander-in-chief participating in a ceremony that has been carried out every year since the Civil War. In his remarks, Biden called on Americans to show more empathy toward one another and unite around the shared ideals America is built on. He also touched on several issues the country is currently grappling with, including voting rights and racial equality.
“Democracy thrives, and the infrastructure of democracy is strong, when people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently, on a free and independent press to pursue the truth, followed on facts, not propaganda, on the rule of law applied equally and fairly to every citizen, regardless of where they come from, what they look like,” Biden said.
Biden also gave a warning to those around the world and at home who pose a threat to democracy.
“Our troops have fought this battle on fields around the world but also a battle of our time, and the mission for each of us, each and every day," Biden said. "Democracy itself is imperiled here at home and around the world."
At one point, Biden took out a card from his pocket that he said he carries with him each day with the number of soldiers who have lost their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which stood at 7,036 on this Memorial Day.
Biden has reflected a number of times during his remarks over the Memorial Day weekend about his son Beau's service and how he was affected by his death at the age of 46. Biden and other family members marked the anniversary of Beau’s death with a memorial on Sunday at their church in Delaware and afterward walked to his grave and left flowers.
“Yesterday marked the anniversary of his death, and it's a hard time, a hard time here for me and my family, just like it is for so many of you,” Biden said. “It can hurt to remember, but the hurt is how we feel and how we heal. I alway feel Beau close to me on Memorial Day, I always know where I need to be, right here honoring our fallen heroes.”
As Biden’s motorcade was rolling out of Arlington Cemetery he made an unscheduled stop among the headstones to meet with several families paying their respects.