Arlington National Cemetery
12:54 p.m. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
They rest here in glory and honor – in quiet rows in Arlington, in cemeteries in Europe that I have visited and many of you have visited, in graves across our country, in cities great and little ones – America’s beloved daughters and sons who dared it all, risked it all, and gave it their all to preserve and defend an idea unlike any other in human history: the idea of United States of America.
And today, as a nation, we undertake a sacred ritual: to reflect and to remember. Because if we forget the lives that each of these silent markers represents – mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, children – if we forget what they sacrificed, what they did so that our nation could last strong , free and united, then we forget who we are – who we are.
Ladies and gentlemen, our First Lady and the love of my life, Jill; Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman; secretary Austin; General Milley; Joint Chiefs of Staff, cabinet members; Gold Star families, especially; and survivors: Today we renew our sacred vow — it’s a simple vow: to remember. Remember.
Memorial Day is always a day of pain and pride. We all know that, setting here. Jill and I know that. Today is the day our son died.
And, friends, for those who have lost a loved one in the service of our country, if your loved one is missing or missing, I know the ceremonies reopen that black hole in the center of your chest that draws you in, chokes you .
As I said, seven years ago today our son, Major Beau Biden, breathed his last at Walter Reed. Major in the Delaware Army National Guard, he insisted on deploying to Iraq
with his unit for a year when he was attorney general. He returned home with a decorated soldier, a Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and the Delaware Distinguished Service Cross.
He did not die in the line of duty. He came back from Iraq with cancer. It was a horrible cancer that stole us from him, stole – and he from us.
But still, it still strikes me as Memorial Day – I see it, not as it was the last time I held his hand, but the day I pinned his bars to him as a second lieutenant. .
I see him with me at the Delaware Memorial Bridge hugging all the Gold Star families.
Days like this bring their smiles and laughter to life before your eyes. And the last conversation you had, each one of you knows it.
The injury can be overwhelming. But for many of you, like Jill and me, the pain is that your loved one was part of something bigger – bigger than any of us.
They have chosen a life of purpose. It sounds corny, like a Memorial Day speech, but I say this from the bottom of my heart. They have chosen a life of purpose.
They had a mission. And above all, they believed in duty; they believed in honor; they believed in their country.
And still today, we are free because they were brave. We live by the light of the flame of freedom that they kept alive. And so some of them are still with us, no matter how long we lost them.
And as difficult as it may seem for many, especially those whose loss is still raw, I promise you the day will come when the memory of your beloved, your patriot, will bring a smile to your lips before bringing a tear in your eye. That’s when you know you’re going to get there.
Today, American military ser- —s stand guard around the world, and, as many of you know, often at great personal risk.
And on this Memorial Day, we know that the memory is still painful of all the dead who have lost their lives over the past two decades in battle. Each of them leaving behind a family, a community. Hearts broken by their absence, and lives that will never be the same.
We see in the hundreds of graves here in Section 60, Arlington, a reminder that there is nothing low risk or low cost in war for the women and men who fight it.
7,054 American servicemen gave their lives during 20 years of our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countless others died from injuries and illnesses related to their service and these wars.
And the lasting grief of survivors is a cost of war that we will bear as a nation forever.
And so, to every Gold Star family, to every survivor and family member and caregiver: this grateful nation owes you and that person you lost.
And we can never repay the sacrifice, but we’ll never stop trying. We will never fail in our duty to remember: with their lives, they bought our freedom.
And so, with our lives, we must always live up to their example – putting service before self; take care of our neighbors as well as ourselves; working fervently to bring our union closer to realizing the founding creed, as the secretary said, that all men and women are created equal.
I have often said that as a nation we have many obligations. But the only truly sacred – the only truly sacred obligation that we have – is to prepare and equip these women and men whom we send into danger, and to care for them and their families when they return. at home and when they do not return.
It’s an obligation that unites Americans and brings us together – to ensure that the women and men who are willing to give their lives for us get the best from us in return.
I want to acknowledge that we are making progress in key areas such as comprehensive, bipartisan legislation moving forward in Congress that will provide health care services and benefits to veterans and their survivors impacted by toxic exposures.
We don’t know how many Americans and servicemen have died from what they were exposed to on the battlefield. Poisonous smoke from hotspots near where they live – hotspots that have incinerated war waste, medical and hazardous materials, jet fuel and more.
But we have a duty to do them good. And I am determined to ensure that our brave military families and the members who have served alongside them do not wait decades for the care and benefits they deserve. And that’s why – that’s why we work so hard to find out what the facts are. Where we can still save lives, we must act.
We all also have a duty to renew our commitment to our nation’s core values, in honor of them — for these are the values that have inspired generation after generation to serve.
On Friday, I spoke at the US Naval Academy’s graduation and commissioning ceremony. I had the opportunity to do it before too. It was once again a remarkable experience, an honor, to watch these young men and women – newly commissioned officers – embark on a life of service.
They hold before them the example of the heroes who came before them – many of you are members of their families – heroes who answered the call of duty in Lexington and Concord, Antietam and Gettysburg, Belleau Woods and the Battle of the Bulge, Korea and Vietnam. and Afghanistan, Iraq and so many other places around the world – many of which have never returned home, including the legacy of all those held as POWs or still missing.
To be here today, shortly after this joyous celebration at the Academy, is a heartwarming reminder of all that we ask of our service members and their families – for it is on the strong shoulders and noble spirit of our soldiers that our freedom is built, our democracy sustained.
And right now, as a war of aggression is once again being waged by Russia to stifle the very freedom, democracy, culture and identity of neighboring Ukraine, we see so clearly all that is in play.
Freedom has never been free. Democracy has always needed champions.
And, today, in the eternal struggle for democracy and freedom, Ukraine and its people are on the front line to save their nation.
But their fight is part of a larger fight that unites everyone. It is a fight in which so many patriots, whose eternal rest is here in these hallowed grounds, have participated.
A battle between democracy and autocracy, between freedom and repression, between the appetites and the ambition of a few who always seek to dominate the lives and freedoms of many.
A battle for essential democratic principles – the rule of law, free and fair elections, freedom to speak, write and assemble, freedom to worship, freedom of the press – essential principles for a free society.
You have heard this a lot. You’ve heard this a lot over the years, but now we realize how real it is around the world in so many countries as I speak. These are the foundations of our great experience, but they are never guaranteed, even here in America.
Each generation must defeat the mortal enemies of democracy. And in every generation, heroes are born, ready to shed their blood for what they and we cherish.
Ladies and gentlemen, today we remember and reaffirm that freedom is worth the sacrifice. Democracy is not perfect; it was never good — perfect. But it’s worth fighting for; if necessary, worth dying for.
It’s more than our form of government, it’s part of the very soul of America. The soul of America.
Our democracy is our greatest gift as a nation, made holy by those we have lost along the way. Our democracy is how we undertake the constant work of perfecting the union — and we haven’t perfected it, but we have never stopped trying; to open wider the doors of opportunity, prosperity and justice for people everywhere.
Our democracy is how we endure all the challenges, overcome all the obstacles we have faced over the past 246 years of self-government and come back stronger than before.
We must never stray from this. We must never betray the lives sacrificed to make our nation a beacon to the world – a citadel of freedom and justice for all.
This is the mission of our time. Our memorial must not be just a day when we stop and pray, it must be a daily commitment to act, to come together, to be worthy of the price that has been paid.
May God bring comfort to all who mourn. God bless our families and our Gold Star survivors. And please, God, protect our troops.
God bless America and all of you. Thanks. (Applause.)
1:09 p.m. EDT