"I always feel Beau close to me on Memorial Day," the president said about his late son, an Iraq War veteran who died of brain cancer in 2015

By Virginia Chamlee
May 31, 2021 01:22 PM
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US President Joe Biden delivers an address at the 153rd National Memorial Day Observance
Joe Biden
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden honored the nation's veterans on Memorial Day in a deeply personal manner, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and delivering remarks at Arlington National Cemetery in which he drew on the life and legacy of his late son.

Praising the veterans who had made "the ultimate sacrifice" to protect the country, Biden, 78, urged Americans to "remember their sacrifice, their valor and their grace" on Monday.

Biden continued: "For while we stand amid monuments of stone, we must never forget each of these markers — for those known and unknown here at Arlington and far beyond — represent a precious life. A son, a daughter, a mother, a spouse ... We must honor their sacrifice by sustaining the best of America while honestly confronting all that we must do to make our nation fuller, freer and more just."

Biden also drew on the memory of his own son, Beau Biden, an Iraq War veteran and Delaware's former attorney general, who died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.

"To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea how you're feeling. Our losses are not the same, but that black hole you feel in your chest, as if it's going to suck you into it, we get," Biden said. 

US President Joe Biden takes part in a wreath laying in front of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Joe Biden
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The president continued: "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 that he was most proud of in life."

A number of political figures made Memorial Day tributes on Monday, including former President Donald Trump, who said in his own statement that "we owe all that we are, and everything we ever hope to be, to these unrivaled heroes. Their memory and their legacy is immortal."

Biden's son Beau served as Delaware's attorney general from 2007 until 2015 and was deployed with the Army National Guard from 2008 until 2009. He received a Bronze Star Medal during his tour and delegated his day-to-day duties as attorney general while serving in the Middle East.

Noting that Sunday marked the anniversary of Beau's death, Biden said, "It's a hard time of year for me and our family, just like it is for so many of you," adding, "The hurt is how we feel and how we heal."

"I always feel Beau close to me on Memorial Day," Biden said. "I know exactly where I need to be: right here, honoring our fallen heroes."

On Sunday, Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visited St. Joseph's church in Wilmington, Delaware, to pay their respects to their son. The church, where the Bidens regularly attend services, is Beau's burial site.

Last Friday, Biden again reflected on his late son's life and Beau's decision to join his National Guard unit in Iraq, while addressing service members and their families ahead of the holiday weekend.

"He gave up the seat and had the courage to appoint a fellow who had been a Republican attorney general as attorney general while he — while he went.  The proudest thing he ever did," Biden said at the Friday event. "He spent a year in Iraq.  And it was — it was one of the great honors of his life to do it.  Won the Bronze Star, the Conspicuous Service Medal, and other awards — like many of you have — but he never, ever talked about it."

"I shouldn't be talking so much about my son, but I'm not going to apologize for it," he continued. "He's like a lot of you.  You do your duty.  You don't expect anything for it except be a little — have — get a little respect.  It deserves so much more.  You deserve so much more."