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Biden gives message to grieving families on Memorial Day

  • Monday marks the nation's 155th National Memorial Day program
  • Biden remembered his late son Beau's service during his speech 
  • 'I can still hear him say Dad, it’s my duty,' Biden said of Beau 

The nation must never forget the price members of the military paid to protect the United States’ democracy, President Joe Biden said at his Memorial Day Address Monday morning.

These remarks came after Biden participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia.

“We must never forget the lives these flags, flowers and marble markers represent,” Biden said. “A mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a sister, a spouse, a friend and American. Every year we remember, and every year it never gets easier.”

Biden’s late son, Beau, was a major at an Army National Guard unit deployed to Iraq in 2008. On Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, it will be eight years since Beau Biden’s death from cancer. 

Although Biden acknowledged in his speech that his son did not die on the battlefield, the president said he and first lady Jill Biden take pride in Beau Biden’s service. 

“I can still hear him say Dad, it’s my duty,” he said. “Duty. That was the code my son lived by, and all those you lost lived by.”

The pain of Beau Biden’s loss is still felt “every day,” Biden said. It stings particularly sharp on Memorial Day, he added. 

Biden was joined at the traditional wreath-laying ceremony by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, for the 155th National Memorial Day Observance. He had a moment of contemplation in front of the wreath, which was adorned with flowers and a red, white and blue bow, and then bowed his head in prayer.

Monday marked the 155th National Memorial Day Wreath Laying and Observance Program, meant to honor America’s fallen soldiers, according to a press release from Arlington National Cemetery.

“To all those here and across the nation who are grieving the loss of a loved one who wore the uniform, our Gold Star families, to all those with loved ones still missing and unaccounted for, I know how painful it can be, how it can rip open that black hole in the center of your chest,” Biden said. “The hurt is still real, it’s still raw.”

President Joe Biden lays a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Memorial Day, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Maj. Gen. Allan M. Pepin, commanding general of Joint Task Force-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, hosted the wreath-laying ceremony. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was host of the department’s observance program in Memorial Amphitheater.

According to the amphitheater’s website, many consider the services held there to be the nation’s official Memorial Day ceremony, although many are held throughout the United States. About 5,000 visitors come to each of the three major annual memorial services in the Amphitheater for Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Austin, during his speech, mentioned that this year is the fiftieth anniversary of the military’s all-volunteer force. 

“Our all-volunteer force has blended military power with moral power, and combined the force of American arms with the strength of people who freely choose to stand guard over our democracy,” Austin said. “Every time a qualified American stands up and raises their hand and serves with honor from any corner of the country from any background, color or creed, this exceptional nation becomes even safer and stronger. Every fallen hero has a story.”

Before Monday’s ceremony at the Arlington, Virginia, cemetery, the Bidens hosted a breakfast at the White House for members of veterans organizations, military service and military family organizations, surviving families of fallen U.S. troops, senior Defense Department and other administration officials.

The president and the first lady returned to their home near Wilmington, Delaware, later Monday.

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