Biden delivers somber remarks at Memorial Day ceremony

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Thursday morning at the annual Memorial Day ceremony near the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Thursday morning at the annual Memorial Day ceremony near the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Presidential candidate Joe Biden made his first public appearance in Delaware since launching his 2020 presidential campaign, but Thursday’s stop at the state’s annual Memorial Day ceremony in New Castle was a far cry from a campaign rally. Delaware honors those who lost their lives in combat on the traditional May 30 date instead of the federal holiday.

A reserved, somber Biden wore his trademark dark aviator sunglasses for most of the 90-minute ceremony, even though those in attendance were protected from the sun by a large tent. He spoke for just six minutes, thanking veterans and the families of those who lost loved ones in battle.

“You all know the loss of a loved one is, it somehow pain fades a little bit, but those moments when you remember are bittersweet, because they’re the days that everything comes back, the pride as well as the pain,” Biden said.

It was a day of pride and pain for Biden, too. On this day four years ago, his son Beau died after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. While serving as Delaware Attorney General, Beau served in Iraq as a member of the Delaware National Guard.

Beau’s daughter Natalie sat with Jill Biden during the ceremony.

Jill Biden sits with her granddaughter Natalie Biden as former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the annual Memorial Day ceremony in New Castle, Delaware. Natalie’s father, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died from brain cancer on this day in 2015. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

The former Vice President said Memorial Day is a time to reaffirm the promise that everyone who is sent into battle should be prepared, equipped and have the full support of the country. “We have to uphold the honor that you all fought for, the honor and decency of who you are,” Biden said. “America is an idea that is stronger than any army, that is bigger than any ocean, and that is more powerful than any tyrant or dictator.”

Biden didn’t mention his campaign or the president, but Senator Chris Coons was elected to Biden’s former Senate seat in 2010, said the nation yearns for leaders who are measured and thoughtful and know the world. “We need leaders who understand the sacrifice of veterans,” Coons said. Addressing the Biden’s Coons added, “I look forward to standing with you as just such a leader.”

The ceremony remained mainly apolitical except for a poem penned and read by state Rep. Nnamdi O. Chukwuocha, a Democrat from Wilmington. His poem focused on the difference between the Memorial Day holiday celebrated on Monday with its focus on barbecues and beaches and the traditional celebration held May 30. He mentioned Sen. John McCain, who has been criticized several times by President Trump. “Today it is a privilege to honor names like Sen. John McCain, despite the Oval Office’s acts of shame,” Chukwuocha said. It’s been reported that the White House told the Navy to keep the USS John S. McCain out of the president’s sight during a recent trip to Japan. “Today our actions and our words give you the admiration and a presidential level of respect that you truly deserve.” Chukwuocha and his twin brother Al Mills were named Delaware’s Poets Laureate by then-Gov. Jack Markell in 2015. Both served in the U.S. Army.

Biden told the crowd since 9/11 he’s kept a daily tally of the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He pulled out his daily schedule from his pocket and read the number the the crowd. “Today that number is 6,866 troops that have died in those two theaters,” he said. The number of wounded totals 52,787. He said it’s not clear how many of the nearly 300,000 soldiers who have returned from those wars are suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. He said the American obligation to those soldiers and their families lasts long after the parades are over and the wars end.

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