President Joe Biden paid tribute on Monday to Americans who have died in war, presenting a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and honoring the fallen in his first Memorial Day address as president.
“We’re gathered at this sacred place in this solemn hour to engage in the most fundamental of undertakings: the right of remembrance. Remember those who gave their all in the service of America, in the service of freedom, in the service of justice,” he said. “Women and men, all those we honor today, gave their lives for this country. But they live forever in our hearts, forever proud, forever honorable, forever American.”
The president joined in the annual ceremony at the hallowed Virginia cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ― a tomb dedicated to U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified. Biden presented a wreath at the tomb to mark Memorial Day, as is tradition for presidents. He approached the wreath and appeared to bow his head in prayer before making the sign of the cross on himself.
Biden stood alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during the ceremony. Before approaching the wreath, Austin and the president saluted the tomb as a military band played the national anthem. Harris placed a hand over her heart.
The president then gave an address at the cemetery’s largely empty Memorial Amphitheater, after Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave their respective speeches. While much of what Biden said was similar to previous remarks he’s made about America, diversity and grief, he also made a point to highlight issues threatening democracy in the U.S. and around the world.
“Our troops have fought this battle on fields around the world, but also the battle of our time. And the mission falls to each of us, each and every day. Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world. What we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure,” the president said, adding that “empathy is the fuel of democracy.”
“Folks, you all know it. Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong,” Biden continued. “When people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently. When a free and independent press pursues the truth, founded on facts, not propaganda. When the rule of law applies equally and fairly to every citizen regardless of where they come from, what they look like.”
On Sunday, Biden addressed a crowd of Gold Star military families and other veterans in a ceremony at War Memorial Plaza in New Castle, Delaware, where he stood by a memorial wall inscribed with the names of soldiers from Delaware and New Jersey who died in World War II and Korea. Earlier that day, he and other family members attended a memorial Mass for his son Beau Biden, an Iraq veteran who died of brain cancer six years ago to the day.
“To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea of how you’re feeling. Our losses are not the same, but that black hole you feel in your chest as if it’s gonna suck you into it, we get,” the president said in his Monday address. “I know the incredible pride you felt seeing your loved one wear the uniform of our country and the pride they felt wearing it.
“Our son Beau’s service in the Delaware Army National Guard unit, the year he spent deployed in Iraq, was one of the things he was most proud of in life. Yesterday marked the anniversary of his death and it’s a hard time of year for me and our family, just like it is for so many of you. It can hurt to remember, but the hurt is how we feel and how we heal.”
Memorial Day last year was Biden’s first public appearance as a presidential candidate since the COVID-19 pandemic had closed down much of the country in March.
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