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Biden honors fallen service members in Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery, saying they "chose a life of purpose"

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Biden honors America's fallen service members
Biden honors America's fallen service members on Memorial Day at Arlington 14:21

President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, their spouses and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin honored America's service members who gave their lives at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. Monday marked the seventh anniversary of the death of Mr. Biden's son Beau, a veteran and former federal prosecutor who lost his battle with cancer in 2015.

The president and first lady began their day at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware, where Beau Biden is buried.

At Arlington National Cemetery, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as is tradition.

"Today, we renew our sacred vow. It's a simple vow. To remember. To remember," Mr. Biden said. "Memorial Day is always a day where pain and pride are mixed together. We all know it, sitting here. Jill and I know it. Today is the day our son died. Folks, for those who have lost a loved one in the service of our country, if your loved one is missing or unaccounted for, I know the ceremonies reopen that black hole in the center of your chest that just pulls you in, suffocates you."

Mr. Biden said he knows the lives of the families who lost loved ones will never be the same and acknowledged the 7,054 service members who lost their lives in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on May 30, 2022.
President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on May 30, 2022. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

"Days like this bring back before your eyes their smile and their laugh," the president said. "The last conversation you had. Each of you know it. The hurt can be overwhelming. But for so many of you, as is with Jill and me, hurt is wrapped around the knowledge that your loved one was part of something bigger — bigger than any of us. They chose a life of purpose."

"They had a mission, and above all they believed in duty, they believed in honor, they believed in their country, and still today we are free because they were brave," Mr. Biden said.

The president said the country has a "duty" to do right by service members who suffered from toxic burn pits. The president used his first State of the Union address to urge Congress to do more to assist veterans exposed to such burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and has suggested those burn pits might be linked to his late son's cancer.

Austin also specifically acknowledged the Americans who died in the war in Afghanistan, a country from which Mr. Biden controversially pulled the U.S. military's presence last summer.

"In the year since we last gathered on this solemn day, America's longest war has come to a close," Austin said. "And today, we remember the 2,461 American service members and personnel who fell in Afghanistan. And we remember all those who still carry the wounds of that war, to body and to soul."

As he often does, the president emphasized the vital importance of democracy and the value in defending it.

"Democracy is not perfect … but it's worth fighting for," the president said. "If necessary, worth dying for."

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