‘To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea of how you are feeling’, the president says
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris joined a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday as the US observed Memorial Day, where the president spoke about the sacrifices made by military families and the loss felt by parents of fallen soldiers.
His visit was Mr Biden’s third so far in just the first few months of his presidency, and comes as his administration is undertaking a massive withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan, where the US has battled the Taliban and other insurgent groups for nearly 20 years.
“We are the children of sacrifice, made by a long line of American service members, each a link in that chain of honor. We live by the light of the flame of liberty they kept burning. We’re free, because they were brave,” Mr Biden said, honoring fallen soldiers, including his own son.
“To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea of how you are feeling. Our losses are not the same. But that black hole that seems to suck you into your chest…we get that,” he added to an audience of military and Gold Star families.
The wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an annual tradition held at the quiet burial ground located just minutes from D.C.’s bustling downtown, though Monday’s event was more muted than past gatherings for the holiday due to ongoing concerns caused by COVID-19.
As the president spoke, the chirps of thousands of cicadas which have overtaken the capital region could be heard as a constant, soft roar in the background.
While much of the cemetery’s grounds remained open to the public for the traditional surge of Memorial Day visitors, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier remained closed off for Monday’s wreath-laying and the president’s address.
Harris’ attendance at the ceremony came amid furious criticism from some conservative media figures including Donald Trump’s former strategist, Sebastian Gorka, over a tweet sent from her account Saturday afternoon that simply read: “Enjoy the long weekend,” which they claimed was disrespectful to military families.
The vice president did not address the criticism from conservatives at Monday’s event, and the pair did not take questions from pool reporters before or after Biden’s address.
A day earlier, the president attended service at St. Joseph’s church in Wilmington, Delaware, and commemorated the death of his 46-year-old son, who himself served in Delaware’s Army National Guard and completed one tour in Iraq.
“Yesterday marked the anniversary of [our son Beau Biden’s] death. And it’s a hard time, a hard time of year for our family. Just like it is for so many of you. It can hurt to remember. But the hurt is how we feel, and how we heal,” the president said Monday.