Biden marks Memorial Day with somber speech at Arlington National Cemetery

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President Joe Biden on Monday commemorated Memorial Day during remarks at Arlington National Cemetery, where he marked the solemn and personal occasion by thanking those killed while serving their country in the name of democracy around the world.

“Freedom has never been guaranteed – every generation has to earn it, fight for it, defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few and the rights of many. It matters, our democracy is more than just a system of government. It’s the very soul of America,” Biden told the crowd gathered for his annual Memorial Day Address.

The president took the opportunity to honor those killed while serving their country and also thanked veterans, survivors and family members in the audience on Memorial Day.

“We gather at this sacred place, at this solemn moment, to remember, to honor –honor the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who have given their lives to this nation,” he said. “Each one, literally … a link in the chain of honor stretching back to our founding days, each one bound by common commitment; not to a place, not to a person, not to a president, but to an idea unlike any idea in human history: the idea of the United States of America. Today, we bear witness to the price they paid.”

President Joe Biden speaks during the National Memorial Day Wreath-Laying and Observance Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington, DC, on May 27. - Ken Cedeno/Reuters
President Joe Biden speaks during the National Memorial Day Wreath-Laying and Observance Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington, DC, on May 27. - Ken Cedeno/Reuters

The day is also personal for the president. Biden spoke about the death of his son, Beau Biden, from brain cancer that he believes was linked to the toxic burn pits Beau Biden was exposed to during his tour in Iraq. Thursday will mark the ninth anniversary of Beau Biden’s death.

“Our losses are not the same: He didn’t perish in the battlefield, he was a cancer victim from a consequence of being in the Army in Iraq for a year next to a burn pit,” Biden said. “A major in the US Army National Guard living and working, like too many, besides that toxic burn pit. And as it is for so many of you, the pain of his loss is with me every day, as it is with you, still sharp, still clear. But so is the pride I feel at his service, as if I can still hear him saying, ‘It’s my duty, Dad, it’s my duty.’ Duty – that was the code my son lived by, the creed all of you live by.”

He then pointed to his signing of the 2022 bipartisan PACT Act, which expanded health care benefits to millions of veterans who were exposed to burn pits, which were used to burn waste — including trash, munitions, hazardous material and chemical compounds — at military sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan until about 2010. These massive open-air burn pits often operated at or near military bases and released dangerous toxins into the air that, upon exposure, may have caused short- and long-term health conditions, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I’ve long said we have many obligations as a nation. But we only have one truly sacred obligation: To prepare those we send in to battle, to prepare and take care of them and their families when they come home, and when they don’t,” Biden said, before touting other bills helping veterans and their families signed by his administration.

Biden was introduced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told the audience that while, “Our arms and technology are the envy of the world … in the end, America’s greatest strategic asset will always be our people.”

“So, let us always remember our fallen heroes – let us always strive to defend the democracy for which they fought and died. They did their duty, and we must too,” Austin said.

Biden participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Monday. - Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Biden participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Monday. - Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Before giving his annual Memorial Day Address, Biden participated in a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and in the morning hosted a breakfast in honor of Memorial Day with administration officials, military leadership, veterans and Gold Star family members.

The president’s remarks come just two days after he delivered the commencement address at West Point, where he pointed to the United States’ role “as the indispensable nation, the world’s only superpower, and the leading democracy in the world.”

“From the very beginning, nothing is guaranteed about our democracy in America,” Biden told the graduating cadets. “Every generation has an obligation to defend it, to protect it, to preserve it, to choose it. Now, it’s your turn.”

Biden walks to speak to graduating cadets at the US Military Academy commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 25, in West Point, New York. - Alex Brandon/AP
Biden walks to speak to graduating cadets at the US Military Academy commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 25, in West Point, New York. - Alex Brandon/AP

It also comes as Biden prepares to travel to Normandy, France, in two weeks, where he’s slated to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day where service members “stormed the beaches of Normandy and liberated a continent and literally saved the world,” he said Monday.

The speech comes at the beginning of what is expected to be a busy period of campaigning ahead of the November election.

Biden’s opponent in that race, former President Donald Trump, marked Memorial Day in a Truth Social post in which he attacked E. Jean Carroll and the judges who have presided over his defamation, civil fraud and criminal hush money trials.

“Happy Memorial Day to All, including the Human Scum that is working so hard to destroy our Once Great Country,” Trump said in the lengthy social media rant.

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