By Justin Sink - 12/11/13 02:09 PM EST
Vice President Biden hailed Nelson Mandela as the "most impressive man or woman I've ever met in my life" while speaking at a memorial service for the anti-apartheid icon Wednesday morning at the National Cathedral.
Biden hailed Mandela for his "astonishing" ability to embrace his captors and described his surprise when, during a meeting in Biden's Senate office, Mandela insisted he harbored no anger toward them.
"His loyalty, as it turned out, was to all the people of South Africa — black, Indian, white," Biden said.
The vice president said that, as a young senator, he traveled to South Africa, where officials attempted to separate him from black members of Congress.
Biden said the incident demonstrated the "arrogance of this government, telling the delegation from the United States of America that we had to separate ourselves based on our color" and the "repugnant" consequences of apartheid.
"Neither of us — the delegation or me — was willing to walk through different doors," Biden said. "We moved together."