The mouth-watering smells of stuffing and turkey, a crackling fire, guests with bowed heads giving thanks for "second chances"—Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden hosted their fourth Early Thanksgiving for Wounded Warriors on Monday, welcoming servicemen and -women and loved ones to the Naval Observatory.
"Jill and I want to welcome you to the vice president's home. This is your home," Biden said in brief remarks as the 26 guests sat at two large tables in the residence's dining room. He spoke from behind a lectern with the VP's seal on it, Jill Biden at his side. Candles fluttered over their shoulders on the mantelpiece of the fireplace, in which a robust blaze was already crackling. A Navy harpist played before his remarks.
The vice president said he and his wife were "honored and, quite frankly, flattered" to host the dinner. "It's one of the highlights and honors of this job."
"We're just so incredibly proud of you," Biden said. "We can never—and I mean this sincerely—never, ever repay you and your families for the sacrifices you've made."
The wounded warriors are all being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the vice president's office said. They were chosen "because they have indicated they will likely not be able to leave the D.C. area to be with family for the Thanksgiving holiday." There were five from the Army, four from the Marines and one from the Air Force. Two were in wheelchairs.
Hungry little Oliver Elliott, the 8-month-son of Marine Corps Capt. Tommy Elliott of St. Claire, Ill., sang out a couple of times from his high chair as Biden spoke. "Don't worry about the baby, it's OK," the vice president assured his guests. Oliver grew quiet when his mother, Deborah, gave him his bottle.
Biden paid tribute to military families, noting that his son served in Iraq for a year. He described how, during Beau Biden's deployment, he would find Jill Biden in the kitchen every morning, mouthing a prayer. More than once, he noted that only a tiny percentage of Americans had served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Biden promised the wounded veterans that "the most encouraging thing you're going to see in your lifetime, in the near term, is some incredible, incredible, incredible medical breakthroughs" in everything from prosthetics and treatment for severe brain injuries to help for post-traumatic stress.
Jill Biden, who wore a Blue Star Mother pin signifying that she's a military mom, also cited her son's time in Iraq.
"Our son Beau was deployed four years ago, so I know what it's like to have a loved one who's not at the table," she said. She also highlighted her work with military families.
"As Joe said, I do believe in the power of prayer. And it was prayer that helped me get through that year," she said. "And I think probably for many of you it's prayer that'll help you get through these tough times."
Chaplain Stan Fornea said a prayer, and the assembled diners bowed their heads. He gave thanks for "the gifts of freedom, love, opportunity and second chances."
"The bad news is you guys at this table start off with me," Biden said, drawing laughs from the guests. The Bidens planned to meet all of their guests throughout the meal.
For those curious about what the meal included, here is the menu, provided by the vice president's office:
"Buttermilk Brined Roast Turkey w/ Lemon-Parsley Gravy
Country Bread Dressing
Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
Graham Cracker Sweet Potato Gratin
Roasted Vegetable Macaroni & Cheese
Snap Beans w/ Caramelized Shallots & Roasted Mushrooms
Fall Harvest Salad
Apple-Pecan Cranberry Relish
Maple-Ginger Pumpkin Pie Old Fashioned Lattice Apple Pie & Thanksgiving Pecan Pie"