The last month were "an elite unit in every sense of that phrase," Vice President Joe Biden eulogized on Tuesday.
Joined by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., in the audience, Biden remembered the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the elite firemen who 45-mile-per-hour winds and three-digit heat to contain a wildfire that ripped through Yarnell, Ariz. Only one member of the crew survived.
"Firefighting was not what they did, it was who they were," Biden said at the funeral in Prescott, Ariz. "They saw their jobs not as jobs, but as a duty, a duty to their fellow citizens."
The firemen composed one of the nation's 108 Hotshot crews, the "strongest, most disciplined, tenacious, physically fit men in the world," Biden said. Representatives from the other Hotshot crews attended the memorial alongside the deceased firemen's family and friends.
"All men are created equal, but then a few became firefighters," Biden said to the audience which extended outside the arena. "America will continue to be defined by the example of the 19."
Highlighting how he "knew these men," Biden shared stories of how firefighters saved his two sons in the 1972 car accident that killed his daughter and first wife. He said he also appreciated the men for saving him from dying in a snowstorm, and rescuing his current wife, Jill Biden, from a house fire.
"I believe they animate our national identity," Biden said. "Not one of them doubted the danger they faced. Yet they willingly take the risk. You hear the call and you respond."
These encounters with firemen made it "very meaningful" for Biden to represent the Obama administration at the funeral rather than President Obama, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday.
Brewer thanked Biden for his and President Obama's "kind words" following the fires, promisingand the for families of the fallen firemen.
"Though not all 19 men were from Arizona, we claim each one as our own today," Brewer said. "How wonderful it is to know that Arizona was home to 19 men like those we honor today."