President Joe Biden paid tribute to Americans who died in war on Monday, presenting a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and honoring the dead during his first Memorial Day speech as president.
“We are gathered in this sacred place at this solemn hour to engage in the most fundamental enterprise: the right to remember. Remember those who gave their all in the service of America, in the service of freedom, in the service of justice, ”he declared. “Women and men, all of whom we honor today, have given their lives for this country. But they live forever in our hearts, forever proud, forever honorable, forever American. “
The President joined the annual ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Sacred Virginia Cemetery, a grave dedicated to U.S. servicemen whose remains have not been identified. Biden presented a wreath at the grave to mark Memorial Day, as is the tradition for presidents. He approached the crown and seemed to bow his head in prayer before making the sign of the cross on himself.
Biden stood alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the ceremony. Before approaching the crown, Austin and the President saluted the grave as a military band played the national anthem. Harris put a hand over his heart.
The president then delivered remarks in the cemetery’s largely empty memorial amphitheater, after Austin and General 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 had made about America, diversity, and heartbreak, he was also keen to highlight issues threatening democracy in the United States and in the world.
“Our troops have fought this battle on fields all over the world, but also the battle of our time. And the mission is incumbent on each of us, 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 dead, will determine whether or not democracy will last long, ”the president said, adding that“ empathy is the fuel of democracy ”.
“Friends, you all know that. Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong, ”Biden continued. “When people have the right to vote freely, fairly and conveniently. When a free and independent press pursues the truth, based on facts, not propaganda. When the rule of law applies equally and equitably to all citizens, no matter where they come from, what they look like.
On Sunday, Biden addressed a crowd of Gold Star military families and other veterans at a ceremony at the War Memorial Plaza in New Castle, Delaware, where he stood near a memorial wall bearing the names of Delaware and New Jersey soldiers who died in World War II and Korea. Earlier today, he and other members of his family attended a memorial mass for his son Beau Biden, an Iraqi veteran who died of brain cancer six years ago to the day.
“To those who are mourning a loved one today, Jill and I have an idea of how you feel. Our losses are not the same, but this black hole that you feel in your chest like it’s going to suck you in, we get it, ”the president said in his speech on Monday. “I know the incredible pride you felt seeing your loved one wearing our country’s uniform and the pride they felt wearing it.
“Our son Beau’s service in the Delaware Army National Guard unit, the year he spent deployed to Iraq, was one of the things he was most proud of in the life. Yesterday marked the anniversary of his death and it is a difficult time for me and our family, as it is for many of you. It may hurt to remember, but pain is what 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 shut down much of the country in March.
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