New Castle, Delaware…Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. It’s good to be here on this solemn occasion with so many friends — Governor Carney, Senator Carper, Attorney Keneral- [sic] — General Kathy Jennings. General Berry, it’s good to see you. And thank you for everything you do for the Delaware National Guard.
By the way, I saw General Vavala this morning. He’s become not only a general, but a great friend. A great friend. He was at Beau’s memorial mass this morning. Thank you for being there, General. I appreciate it. (Applause.)
And, by the way, Hunter has had one shot — (laughter) — not two, and he’s just making sure everybody is okay.
Me and my family, we’ve tried to participate in this event every year because it’s an important tradition in the Delaware community. Even last year, in those early dark days of the pandemic, Jill and I didn’t want to let Memorial Day pass like every other day. And there was no event here, but we came to lay a wreath at the plaza. It was the first time we did any sort of event since the lockdown had begun in March because we were determined — determined — to honor the fallen, to pay tribute to the women and men who braved every danger, who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Because as a nation, we must always remember — always remember. We must remember the price that was paid for our liberties. We must remember the debt we owe those who have paid it, and the families left behind. My heart is torn in half by the grief. The communities were never whole again.
Folks, it’s also an important tradition in our family. As many of you know, this is a hard day for us. Six years ago today, Hunter lost his dad and I lost my son. It’s — the first year after his passing back in 2016, General Vavala did a great honor in inviting us to a ceremony renaming the Delaware National Guard headquarters in Beau’s honor.
By the way, I’d note that when Beau made the grade of major in — in Iraq, I said — I had been in and out of Iraq over 25 times. I said, “Beau, you’re now a field-grade officer.” He said, “Dad, I have no illusion who runs the United States Army. It’s the master sergeants.” (Laughter.) “They run the army.”
Well, I woke up that morning hearing Beau in my ear saying, “Not me, Dad. Today is not about me. It’s Memorial Day. You should be over at the bridge.”
And, you know, if he were here, he would be here as well, paying his respects to all those — all those who gave so much for our country, and particularly honoring the Gold Star families.
You know, a lot of time passes, but you all know better than I do — or as well as I do — that the moment that we celebrate it is the toughest day of the year. We’re honored, but it’s a tough day. It brings back everything.
And so I can’t thank you enough for your continued service to the country. And your — your sons, your daughters, they live on in your hearts and in their children as well. And we have to carry on without them. But I know how hard it is for you.
Beau didn’t die in the line of duty, but he was serving a Delaware National Guard unit in Iraq for a year. That was one of the proudest things he did in his life.
So, thank you for allowing us to grieve together today. I know how much the loss hurts. I know the black hole that it leaves in the middle of your chest, that feels like you may get sucked into it and not come out.
Greetings like this and gatherings help. And while I know nothing I can say to ease the pain, I just know that each year it gets a little bit — a little bit easier.
And I promise you the day will come when the mention of the name of your son or daughter, husband, wife — they will, in fact, bring not a tear to your eye, but a smile to your lips.
Folks — and I hope that day comes sooner than later.
Folks, you know, despite all the pain, I know the pride you feel in the loved one and — that you lost and those who are still serving, the pride and the bravery in the service to our great American experiment.
Our military community is the solid spine of this country. It’s literally the spine of the nation.
And on my first Memorial Day as Commander-in-Chief, I want to reaffirm my longstanding belief: We may have many obligations as a nation, but we only have one truly sacred obligation, and that’s to equip those we send into harm’s way with all they need, and care for them and their families when they re-ho- — when they return home, and when they don’t.
And all of us who remain have a duty to renew our commitment to the fundamental values to our nation in their honor — the values that have inspired generation after generation to service and that so many have died to defend.
Every day since I was Vice President, I’ve carried with me a card with the exact number of troops killed in our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq — not an approximation or a rounded number; an accounting of every life laid down for our country over the 20 years of war.
Today, it’s 7,036 military members — fallen angels — have given the “last full measure of devotion,” as Lincoln termed it, in those modern conflicts.
And we will never forget. They’re the guardians and we’re the guardians. They’re the guardians of us, and we’re the guardians of their legacy, inheritors of their mission, and the living testament to their sacrifice that is not going to be in vain. Because every American democracy endures. We have been tested, and we still will be surely tested further. But I know that we as a people are up to the task.
Each generation of Americans receives the precious gift of liberty. And we work to share it with more people; to make our country more open, more free, more fair; to bring us closer — closer to making our American creed a reality for all Americans: that all women and men are created equal; that all women and men equally deserve to be treated with dignity; that all men and women deserve equal rights, equal protection to build up futures for their families, and hope and opportunity.
The American creed is the connective tissue that binds us. It’s a long chain of patriots that come before us and those who will follow us in turn. That creed holds that the ideals that inspire people to service and that us — fill us with pride when we see our loved ones put on that uniform. And our progress toward that creed together, as one nation united and preserved through their sacrifices, is the best and strongest memorial to their lives.
Ladies and gentlemen, America is unique. It’s an idea. Unlike any other country in the world, it is formed based on an idea. Almost every other country is based on a creed, a religion, a geography, an ethnicity, but not us.
We’re based on an idea: that we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal. We’re unique in the world.
I had a long conversation — for two hours — recently with President Xi, making it clear to him that we could do nothing but speak out for human rights around the world because that’s who we are.
I’ll be meeting with President Putin in a couple of weeks in Geneva, making it clear that we will not — we will not stand by and let him abuse those rights.
Folks, we’re unique in all of history. We really are. But those names that’s on that wall, and every other wall and tombstone in America of veterans, is the reason why we’re able to stand here. We can’t kid ourselves about that.
And so I hope — I hope that the nation comes together. We’re not Democrats or Republicans today. We’re Americans. We’re Americans — (applause) — who have given their lives. And it’s time we remind everybody who we are.
Thank you all for being here. May God bless you all, particularly the Gold Star families and survivors. And may God protect our troops, because they’re still out there. Thank you. (Applause.)