President Joe Biden paid tribute to his son Beau, the ‘great negro’ baseball player Satchel Paige, the troops killed in Afghanistan and Colin Powell during his Veterans Day address at Arlington National Cemetery.
‘Each of our veterans is a link in a chain of patriots that has stood in defense of our country,’ Biden said, remarking how his own son, Beau, had called him to tell him he would be serving in Iraq. ‘I said, “What in the heck have you done,”‘ the president recalled.
Biden paid tribute to a number of veterans alive and dead during his speech at the Memorial Amphitheater, which took place after he and First Lady Jill Biden attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which turned 100 years old on Thursday.
Biden is the first president since President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s to have had a child who served in an active conflict.
The late Beau Biden was a member of the Delaware Army National Guard and was deplayed to Iraq in 2008 as an Army lawyer. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.
The president has suggested that burn pits in Iraq could have played a role in his son developing the fatal disease. During his remarks, Biden pledged that veterans’ care would be expanded to include diseases caused by Agent Orange and burn pit exposure.
It’s been historically rare for a president’s child to see battle, but Quentin Roosevelt, the son of President Teddy Roosevelt, was killed in action during World War I in 1918, nearly a decade after the president left office.
President Joe Biden attends a wreath laying ceremony to mark Veterans Day and the centennial anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
President Joe Biden speaks at Arlington National Cemetery to mark Veterans Day on Thursday
President Joe Biden participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to mark Veterans Day on Thursday
Biden told an anecdote about Satchel Paige (pictured) as he gave a shout-out to 95-year-old Donald Blinken, the secretary of state’s father who was on hand. Biden used the Paige story to joke about their advanced ages
Biden gave a shout-out to 95-year-old Donald Blinken, the father of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ex-U.S. ambassador and a World War II veteran.
Veterans Day also marked the senior Blinken’s birthday.
Biden made a joke about them getting up in age by telling an anecdote about baseball player Satchel Paige.
‘I know that you’re a little younger than I am, but I’ve adopted the attitude of the great negro – at the time – pitcher in the negro leagues, went on to become a great pitcher in the pros and Major League Baseball after Jackie Robinson, his name was Satchel Paige. And Satchel Paige on his 47th birthday pitched a win against Chicago,’ Biden said.
Reporters asked Paige how he felt about being 47.
‘He said boys that’s not how I look at it. I look at it this way, how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’ Paige replied, according to Biden.
‘I’m 50 years old – and the ambassador’s 47,’ Biden joked.
First Lady Jill Biden arrives at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Thursday
Biden does the sign of the cross in front of the wreath during Thursday’s Veterans Day ceremony
On Veterans Day, Biden (right) spoke of his own son’s Beau Biden’s (left) service in Iraq. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015
Blackhawk helicopters fly over the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
Biden (right) also paid tribute to the late Colin Powell (left), who died last month due to complications with COVID-19
Taking a more serious tone, Biden spoke of three prominent veterans the nation has lost in recent weeks.
‘I’ve lost, like many of you, three friends in the last month,’ Biden told the dignitaries on hand.
Biden described Powell as a ‘friend, but who earned the universal respect of the American people for his leadership in uniform and out.’
Biden also paid tribute to Gen. Ray Odierno, who led troops during the Iraq War.
‘It was an honor that my son Major Biden served under his command at the time,’ the president said.
He also spoke about Vietnam veteran, the late Sen. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in battle.
‘He knew the cost of war as well an anyone could ever know it and went on to champion the dignity and care of Americans and wounded veterans throughout his life,’ Biden said.
‘We lost all three of these incredible veterans in the last several weeks and our hearts go out to their families,’ Biden continued. ‘These are stories that inspire generation after generation of Americans to step forward and defend our nation.’
First Lady Jill Biden is captured arriving at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Thursday
Biden (left) stands alongside Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough (center) and Major General Allan Pepin (right)
Biden talked about the costs of serving, when looking at the modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘For two decades the lives of our servicemembers and their families and veterans have been shaped by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 9/11 hundreds of thousands of Americans have served. So many are still serving today in harm’s way and we cannot forget them,’ he said.
‘But in fulfilling their mission, so many veterans and their families and caregivers have been through hell,’ the president noted.
His speech touched on themes that he had preached when he justified the U.S.’s quick pull-out from Afghanistan earlier this year.
The Afghanistan withdrawal has been widely condemned, especially after 13 American servicemembers were killed in August in an ISIS-K terror attack outside the airport in Kabul, where a mass evacuation was taking place after the Afghan government fell.
‘Folks, on Veterans Day we have to remember that there’s nothing low risk or low cost about war,’ he said.
He spoke of the 7,074 Americans who gave their lives in these wars.
And noted how ‘untold thousands more returned home, as our secretary can tell you, with unseen psychological wounds of war.’
‘These are the costs of war – what carries a nation for decades to come,’ Biden said.
‘To all veterans, servicemembers, their families, caregivers, survivors, I want you to know that our administration is going to meet the sacred obligation we owe you,’ he added.
General Mark Milley (center), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, salutes as service members pass him during a full honors procession honoring the centennial anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Troops evoked the original 1921 funderal procession of a World War I unknown soldier as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This year marks the centennial anniversary for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
Troops march during a full honors procession commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day on Thursday
Earlier at the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the first lady, wearing a navy suit, entered the first.
The president stood alongside Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and Major General Allan Pepin for a playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
Biden approached the wreath alone, making the sign of the cross across his chest.
Taps then played.
Biden attended the ceremony alongside Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The marble coffin at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – which was filled with the remains of an unidentified servicemember killed in France during World War I – was sealed on November 11, 1921.
To mark the centennial, visitors were allowed to place flowers at the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for two days – the first time this was allowed since 1925.
Thursday morning Biden held a private reception at the White House for veterans and members of the military community.
A year ago, Biden visited the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia on Veterans Day as president-elect of the United States. He ran his presidential transition out of nearby Wilmington, Delaware.
Former President Donald Trump went to Arlington, taking a break from challenging the election result.
Pallbearers carry the coffin of the ‘Unknown Soldier’ of World War I down the steps of the Capitol on November 11, 1921
100 years ago on Nov. 11, 1921, the Unknown Soldier was placed on this horse-drawn caisson and carried in a procession through Washington, D.C.
President Harding places a wreath of flowers on the casket of the Unknown Soldier in rotunda of the Capitol, November 9, 1921
Their watch will never end : History of ‘The Old Guard’ Sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment
The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment or ‘Old Guard’ is the oldest active-duty regiment in the U.S. Army, now best known for its ceremonial duties guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The regiment was formed in 1784 as the 1st American Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar fighting in the Ohio frontier campaigns.
Currently serving as the Army’s official ceremonial unit, The Old Guard is assigned with escorting the president and providing security for Washington, D.C., during a national emergency or civil disturbance.
On April 6, 1948, The Old Guard assumed funeral support to Arlington National Cemetery, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 24 hours a day, and ceremonial support to the Military District of Washington.
There are six specialty platoons: Caisson Platoon, Continental Color Guard, Fife and Drum Corps, Presidential Salute, Battery, U.S. Army Drill Team, and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb Guards work on three rotational shifts- 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 96 hours off.
On their time off, the Sentinel’s have to complete Physical Training, Tomb Guard training, haircuts, and get into their uniform (which takes an average of eight hours to prep) before their next shift.
The average Sentinel is assigned to guard the Tomb for about 18 months, although there is no set time required for their service at the cemetery.
The Tomb Guard Identification Badge (TGIB) is awarded after the Sentinel passes a series of tests to earn them the exclusive honor. The TGIB is permanently awarded after a Sentinel has completed nine months on tour at the Tomb.
Over 600 have been awarded since its creation in the late 1950’s, averaging to 10 per year.