Biden marks Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery

Biden marks Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery
© UPI Photo

President BidenJoe BidenUS threatens sweeping export controls against Russian industries Headaches intensify for Democrats in Florida US orders families of embassy staff in Ukraine to leave country MORE paid tribute to the nation’s veterans on Thursday, praising them as the “backbone” of America in a speech at Arlington National Ceremony to mark Veterans Day. 

“Each of our veterans is a link in a proud chain of patriots that has stood in the defense of our country from Bunker Hill to Belleau Wood, Gettysburg to Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir to Kunar Valley,” Biden said in a speech at the National Veterans Day Observance at the cemetery just outside Washington. 

“Each understood the price of freedom and each shouldered that burden on our behalf. Veterans represent the best of America. You are the very spine of America, not just the backbone, you’re the spine of this country and all of us — all of us — owe you,” he said. 

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Biden’s remarks were personal as he reflected on the recent loss of former Secretary of State Colin PowellColin PowellHow American progressives normalize anti-Semitism Juan Williams: The GOP is an anti-America party Defense & National Security — Biden marks Veterans Day MORE, Gen. Ray Odierno and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (D), all of whom were veterans. He also invoked his late son, Beau Biden, who served in the Delaware Army National Guard.

As he often does to mark lives lost due to war or the coronavirus pandemic, Biden pulled out his schedule from his jacket pocket and read off that 53,323 service members have been wounded in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and 7,074 died.

“These are the cost of war we’ll carry as a nation for decades to come,” he said. 

Biden said that his administration was committed to working with Congress to ensure veterans receive the “world-class benefits” they deserve, from care for exposure to burn pits and agent orange to mental health support.

The White House earlier Thursday released a plan to assist military members exposed to contaminants and environmental hazards on the battlefield, as part of an effort to mark the holiday. Earlier this month, the White House announced a new plan to prevent suicides by firearms with a focus on those in the military and veterans.

Thursday was Biden’s first time marking Veterans Day as president. The White House public schedule was light due to the federal holiday, with a handful of events in the morning to honor those who have served the nation.

Biden hosted veterans and service members at the White House Thursday morning, before attending the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to mark the centennial anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

During the somber ceremony, Biden stepped forward toward the tomb, bowed his head in front of the wreath, performed the sign of the cross and stepped back to stand with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughWe have a golden opportunity to restore and reform VA hospitals The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Schwarzenegger donates 25 tiny homes to homeless vets in LA MORE. Biden saluted and McDonough placed his hand over his heart as the military band played taps. They then bowed their heads in silence for about a minute.  

First lady Jill BidenJill BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Jill Biden adds to communications team in lead-up to midterm elections Harris invokes MLK in voting rights push, urges Senate to 'do its job' MORE and several other Cabinet members were in attendance, including Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia GOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasWe must do more to protect American Jews Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  MORE, Commerce Secretary Gina RaimondoGina RaimondoUS, Japan in 'close consultations' amid Russian tensions Biden calls Intel's B investment to build chip factories a tool for economic recovery The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill MORE, Labor Secretary Marty WalshMarty WalshOn The Money — Labor chief touts efforts to promote job growth The Hill interview: Biden Labor chief touts back-to-work push A year into Biden's presidency, we're only burying more overdose victims MORE, Energy Secretary Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden announces green buildings initiative Overnight Energy & Environment — Earth records its hottest years ever MORE and Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUkraine receives second batch of weapons from US: 'And this is not the end' Blinken: State Dept tracking US Embassy personnel in Kyiv 'very, very closely' Pope notes 'rising tensions' in Ukraine, calls for talks MORE

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier opened for two days, on Tuesday and Wednesday, for the first time in 96 years for members of the public to walk up to and lay flowers. During the ceremony on Thursday, the tomb was surrounded by flowers.

The tomb is a symbolic grave for unidentified and not located American soldiers and was first used in 1921 after Congress approved the burial of an unidentified service member from World War I. 

Vice President Harris, who is overseas in Paris, laid a wreath at Suresnes American Cemetery on Wednesday and participated in an Armistice Day ceremony on Thursday.