Biden pays tribute to slain troops at Chattanooga memorial

Biden pays tribute to slain troops at Chattanooga memorial
© Getty Images
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' News leaders deal with the post-Trump era MORE on Saturday gave a moving tribute to the four Marines and one sailor killed last month in the Chattanooga attack, drawing upon the experience of the loss of his own son Beau, an Army major and Iraq veteran. 
"I wish I were not here, for I have some sense of how hard it is for you to be here," Biden said to their families at a memorial service in Chattanooga, Tenn., for the troops. 
"I know that no memorial, no words, no acts can provide the solace that your hearts yearn to acquire. That intense ... feeling of loss and emptiness that continues to linger and in some case, grows more intense," he said.   
Biden quoted the Bible's Book of Isaiah, Chapter 6, Verse 8: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? 
"Each man we honor today gave the same response as Isaiah. Here I am. Send me. Send me," he said. 
"Confident, committed, determined, trustworthy, and always, always loyal. I knew them. They were my son, and so many other sons, I know," he said. 
Biden's eldest son, Beau, 46, died of brain cancer in May. 
The vice president said he had just met the families, but has previously spoken to them on the phone. 
"I know it's hard. It's hard because it brings back ... that very moment when you got that call," he said.  
He also spoke about the "deep black hole, that open wound of losing your son, your husband, your brother, your father." 
"As he walked away and turned and smiled at you, lit up your life, literally lit up your life, just smiling at you," Biden said. "So hold on to one another tightly." 
The vice president drew applause and a standing ovation from the audience of several thousand Marines, sailors, families and friends of the victims, and other Chattanooga residents. 
The service was held at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, and drew a number of top Pentagon leaders. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus also spoke. 
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford were in attendance, as well as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and local government officials. 
The vice president honored each of the men killed in the July 16 attack, commenting on their personal traits. 
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, 40, had a "heart of gold" and "never really left the neighborhood except to go to Iraq twice," Biden said of the two-time Purple Heart recipient. 
Marine Staff. Sgt. David A. Wyatt, 35, of Morganton, N.C., was an Eagle Scout, served in the "darkest and most violent days" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and "was someone you can always count on," Biden said.  
Marine Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, 25, of St. Croix Falls, Wis., was the son of a Marine who served two tours in Vietnam. "Always respectful. Always looking out for others. A Marine even before he took the oath," Biden said. 
Navy Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26, of Paulding, Ohio, was the grandson of a Navy veteran, a baseball star in his hometown. "Always smiling, always there for his friends," Bided said. 
The youngest, Marine Lance Cpl. Squire K.P. "Skip" Wells, 21, of Atlanta, Ga., was a "friend to everyone." "He always wanted to be a Marine. To protect. From the time he was a kid," Biden said. 
"Men of honor, men of faith, men of determination, imbued with a sense of duty that's hard to explain where they got it from. A sense of commitment to their family and friends from the time they were kids. To the moment they died," he said.
Biden also honored the deaths of those who were killed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that he carries a card in his pocket everyday that lists the current number of U.S. troops killed and wounded. 
"Not a general number. The exact number, the precise number. Because every single solitary one of these warriors leaves behind a whole family and community," he said. 
"There are thousands still in harm's way," he said. "We're here not only to pay tribute to these five heroes. There are 6,717 like them who lost their lives in the line of duty. We're also here to pay tribute to the five, as well as the 6,717.  
"To the families of all the fallen, your country says thank you. Thank you for raising such incredible men and women with a keen sense of duty and honor." 
Biden also honored the 4.2 million Americans he said joined the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the more than 2.2 million of them who deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. 
They are the "finest generation of warriors the world has ever known," he said.  
"Every one of them when they signed up knew it was probable — not possible — probable that they'd be sent into battle," he said. "A battle unlike any in our history. State actors but many stateless actors. Difficult to tell friend from foe." 
"Like thousands of men and women here in this arena, they went. They raised their hand. They said, 'Send me.' What a remarkable generation." 
Biden struck the tone of a commander in chief at times throughout the speech, touting America's strength and perseverance against terrorists. 
"These perverse ideologues, warped theocrats. They may be able to inspire a single lone wolf to commit a savage act, but they can never threaten who we are," he said. 
"When this perverted jihadist struck, everyone responded," he said, in reference to the Chattanooga shooter, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, a Kuwati-born U.S. citizen.  
"We have a message for those perverted cowards around the world. America never yields. Never bends, Never cowers, never stands down, endures, responds and always overcomes," he said.  
"For we are Americans. And never, never underestimate us. It's always been a bad, bad bet to do that," he said.
Biden’s speech comes amid speculation that he is nearing a decision on whether to run for president in 2016.
- Updated at 6:42 p.m.