Administration

Biden marks Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery

President Biden paid tribute to the nation’s veterans on Thursday, praising them as the “backbone” of America in a speech at Arlington National Ceremony to mark Veterans Day. 

“Each of our veterans is a link in a proud chain of patriots that has stood in the defense of our country from Bunker Hill to Belleau Wood, Gettysburg to Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir to Kunar Valley,” Biden said in a speech at the National Veterans Day Observance at the cemetery just outside Washington. 

“Each understood the price of freedom and each shouldered that burden on our behalf. Veterans represent the best of America. You are the very spine of America, not just the backbone, you’re the spine of this country and all of us — all of us — owe you,” he said. 

Biden’s remarks were personal as he reflected on the recent loss of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Gen. Ray Odierno and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (D), all of whom were veterans. He also invoked his late son, Beau Biden, who served in the Delaware Army National Guard.

As he often does to mark lives lost due to war or the coronavirus pandemic, Biden pulled out his schedule from his jacket pocket and read off that 53,323 service members have been wounded in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and 7,074 died.

“These are the cost of war we’ll carry as a nation for decades to come,” he said. 

Biden said that his administration was committed to working with Congress to ensure veterans receive the “world-class benefits” they deserve, from care for exposure to burn pits and agent orange to mental health support.

The White House earlier Thursday released a plan to assist military members exposed to contaminants and environmental hazards on the battlefield, as part of an effort to mark the holiday. Earlier this month, the White House announced a new plan to prevent suicides by firearms with a focus on those in the military and veterans.

Thursday was Biden’s first time marking Veterans Day as president. The White House public schedule was light due to the federal holiday, with a handful of events in the morning to honor those who have served the nation.

Biden hosted veterans and service members at the White House Thursday morning, before attending the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to mark the centennial anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

During the somber ceremony, Biden stepped forward toward the tomb, bowed his head in front of the wreath, performed the sign of the cross and stepped back to stand with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. Biden saluted and McDonough placed his hand over his heart as the military band played taps. They then bowed their heads in silence for about a minute.  

First lady Jill Biden and several other Cabinet members were in attendance, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier opened for two days, on Tuesday and Wednesday, for the first time in 96 years for members of the public to walk up to and lay flowers. During the ceremony on Thursday, the tomb was surrounded by flowers.

The tomb is a symbolic grave for unidentified and not located American soldiers and was first used in 1921 after Congress approved the burial of an unidentified service member from World War I. 

Vice President Harris, who is overseas in Paris, laid a wreath at Suresnes American Cemetery on Wednesday and participated in an Armistice Day ceremony on Thursday.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Antony Blinken Arlington National Cemetery Colin Powell Denis McDonough Gina Raimondo Jennifer Granholm Jill Biden Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Marty Walsh Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Veterans Day

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