May 28, 2021
Joe Biden & Jill Biden Memorial Day Weekend Speech Transcript Hampton, Virginia
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden gave remarks honoring Memorial Day weekend at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia on May 28, 2021. Read the transcript of the speeches here.
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Speaker 1: (08:09)
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Commander Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Colonel Clinton Ross, United States Air Force.
Colonel Clinton Ross: (08:25)
Good afternoon. As you heard, I’m Colonel Clint Ross, Installation Commander for Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Let me start off with a huge thank you to our distinguished guests and the airmen and soldiers who are here today for this special event. I would also like to take a moment to thank the staff and the service members who made this visit possible. Your efforts are not unnoticed or unappreciated in making this a very special event for our first lady and president. And now please join me in welcoming Mrs. Brittany Bean and her family, spouse of Major Nathan Bean who’s currently deployed; our first lady, Dr. Jill Biden; and our Commander in Chief and 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden. Please take your seats. Early in the Obama Administration, I had the pleasure of working with then second lady, Dr. Biden, and I can attest firsthand to her sincere passion about our service members and their families. From wounded warrior events, Gold Star Family recognition, and the Joining Forces initiative, she has been a devoted advocate to those who serve and have served. It is now my sincere honor to now welcome first lady Dr. Jill Biden. Ma’am, it’s a pleasure to see you again, and the stage is yours.
Jill Biden: (10:47)
Thank you, Colonel Ross. And Clint, it’s so wonderful to see you again. When our paths last crossed, as Clint said, you were serving in the White House Military Office, and the Obama-Biden Administration was just getting started. And you-
First Lady Jill Biden: (11:03)
… Biden administration was just getting started, and you were an invaluable resource to my team as we worked to serve the military community through our Joining Forces initiative. I remember how sweet Claire was when you brought her to take-your-daughter-to-work day. I’m truly grateful for everything that you did to support us back then and for you and your family’s continued service today.
First Lady Jill Biden: (11:33)
Good afternoon, everyone. It’s great to be back in Norfolk, here at Langley-Eustis, and with those who have given so much for our country, our airmen and our soldiers and those who love them, the families of our service members and veterans, the caregivers who lift up our wounded, our ill and are injured, the survivors who grieve those we’ve lost. You may not wear a uniform, but military families are as critical to our national defense as a rudder is to a ship. You support your service member no matter where they are. You sacrifice your safety with every move and PCS, with every new school or job. You serve alongside your loved ones. We have an all volunteer force and it continues only because generations of Americans see the honor, dignity and patriotism of military service. How can we hope to keep our military strong if our service members are forced to choose between their love of country and their love of family? That’s why supporting your physical, social and emotional health is a national security imperative. Your commander-in-chief and I understand that. This is personal to us. As we begin Memorial Day weekend with a community who feels its gravity deeply, our hearts are with all the survivors remembering and celebrating someone they love. We owe them a debt we can never repay, and we must do everything we can to help them carry the weight of their grief and always, always honor their service.
First Lady Jill Biden: (13:41)
10 years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama and I created Joining Forces, and this work continues to be one of my top priorities today. We’re going to make sure that our military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors have what they, what you need to survive. Our military is a community bound together by love. Love for our country, love for the men and women who serve beside you or the service members in your life, and love for the communities that you all have built together. It’s time that our nation matches that devotion. May God bless you all, our troops and their families.
First Lady Jill Biden: (14:36)
Now I’m excited to welcome our next speaker, Brittany Bean. In addition to being a mom of three, a veteran herself and a fellow teacher, Brittany has navigated much of this pandemic while her husband, Major Nathaniel Bean is deployed to Afghanistan. With Brittany’s service, this is their family’s seventh combined deployment. Brittany, like so many moms, I know that you are the rock of your family, and that’s especially true when you’re parenting with a deployed partner. I want to thank you and your children, Jordan, Nathan, and Margaret Catherine, for your strength, resilience and everything you do every day to keep us safe.
First Lady Jill Biden: (15:40)
Brittany Bean: (15:46)
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I am Brittany Bean and these are my well-behaved, yeah, and adorable children; Margaret Catherine, Nathan, and Jordan. My husband, Major Bean, is overseas in Afghanistan. He has been gone for six months and he will return in about six more months, about in time for Christmas.
Brittany Bean: (16:13)
On this Memorial Day, we are asked to honor, remember and mourn those airmen, service men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duties, home and abroad. As a veteran, myself and spouse to a service member currently serving overseas, I am all too aware of the cost these young men and women are asked to bear, as is President Biden, who has suffered a loss of his own. Some of you listening to my voice right now have also suffered a loss. I’d like to extend my external and internal gratitude however willing to protect the American Dream, to keep our nation a beacon of democracy and hope to others. It comes with a great sense of honor and pride.
Brittany Bean: (17:05)
Though I’ve taken off the uniform and have transitioned to being a military spouse, I am still afforded an opportunity to serve others as an educator at Poquoson Elementary School, go Bulls, thanks to programs like the CARES Act. However, as most educators know, not all lessons are retained to the confines of the classroom. Our three children have benefited immensely from the range of interpersonal relationships they have formed over the years as military children. Our children have lived abroad in the Middle East, traveled all across Europe and the United States. They have had the opportunity to meet families from walks of life and many sociopolitical backgrounds. The military is a global community, a unified community, and one that I am proud to have served and continue to serve.
Brittany Bean: (17:59)
With that, I would like to welcome President Biden to joint base Langley-Eustis and the Hampton Roads region. But first, when you were elected, my husband said, “I got to shake the hand of the president. You gave his commissioning speech at the 2009 Air Force Academy graduation. I said, “I actually get to shake the president’s hand.” I win, don’t you agree? Thank you.
President Joe Biden: (18:29)
How about a hug?
Brittany Bean: (18:38)
Oh, that’s even better.
President Joe Biden: (18:38)
You’re a good boy.
President Joe Biden: (18:41)
Don’t you guys look comfortable. Colonel Ross, it’s wonderful to see you again. Thank you. When our paths last cross, as Jill said, you were serving in the White House and I never thought we’d be standing here today, doing what we’re doing today. Chief Master Sergeant Peterson, thank you, and to all members of your team who helped put this visit together today. It means a lot to Jill and me.
President Joe Biden: (19:17)
When I was vice-president, and as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, we tried to visit almost every major military base in the country and as vice president around the world. You are, simply stated, you are the backbone of the country. You’re the backbone of the country.
President Joe Biden: (19:41)
Although, our son Beau was the attorney general in the state of Delaware and had spent nine months in Kosovo as assistant US attorney, trying to set up their criminal justice system. And I might say, I can do this with the military. I’m going to brag about him a little bit. He’s the only foreigner to have a war memorial erected to him in Kosovo, just below Fort Bondsteel, and a highway. The first highway they built named after him, the Joseph R. Beau Biden Memorial Highway.
President Joe Biden: (20:20)
He was proud as hell of his work. But then he had contracted an exposure to a virus when he was in Kosovo and in Turkey as a civilian, and he came back with a problem. But he kept going to Walter Reed. I couldn’t understand why. He was, they finally found, it was called ankylosis spondylitis. They finally found a cure, prevented him from having what they call bamboo spine. But he kept going back. I couldn’t understand why I thought I knew why. But he went back because he was trying to get an exemption to be able to join the United States Army.
President Joe Biden: (21:11)
He was a sitting attorney general and all my colleagues, Governor, Bobby Scott, and Congresswoman, they all know is that when you do that, he joined the National Guard and his unit deployed and he wanted to deploy to Iraq with them. He literally had to give up his seat temporarily. He could not have any business done, as you National Guard folks know, you can’t do any business with the state, if in fact you’re now federal property. And so he gave up the seat and had the courage to appoint the fellow who had been the Republican attorney general as attorney general while he went. The proudest thing he ever did. The proudest thing he ever did. He-
President Joe Biden: (22:00)
… thing he ever did. And he spent a year in Iraq and it was one of the great honors of his life to do it. Won the Bronze Star, Conspicuous Service Medal and other awards, like many of you have. But he never ever talked about it. I remember we had an event at the White House… I shouldn’t be talking so much about my son, but I’m not going to apologize for it. We had an event for Iraqi Veterans at the White House and the president, without telling me and Jill, invited Beau to be there with another 75 soldiers and sailors and airmen.
President Joe Biden: (22:46)
But he wouldn’t wear any of his decorations. And General Odierno called him, he served under him. He said, “Put them on, now.” Swear to God. Walking out of the VIP residence, he wouldn’t put them on until then. That’s the first time I ever saw the Bronze Star on him.
President Joe Biden: (23:07)
But I’m telling you that is, like a lot of you, you do your duty you don’t expect anything for it, except you will have general respect. You deserve so much more, you deserve so much more. I’m honored to be joined today by Governor Northam and by two great representatives of the Commonwealth, Congresswoman Luria and Congressman Scott.
President Joe Biden: (23:37)
And I want to thank you for all you do to represent these service veterans, because they’re devoted to you, the family members, the caregivers, survivors, all call Virginia home. I’m especially honored to share the stage with Brittany and Jared and Nathan and Margaret Catherine. I love those barrettes in your hair, man. I tell you what, look at her. She looks like she’s 19 years old sitting there like a little lady with her legs crossed. Brittany, you’re doing triple duty as a veteran a military spouse and a teacher. And kids, thank you for being there for your mom.
President Joe Biden: (24:20)
I can remember all those times and all of you remember, the spouses, when your husband or wife are deployed. Every morning you wake up, you say that little extra prayer while you’re drinking your coffee. You just spend a little more time wondering. You make up 1% of the population in the defending 99% of the rest of us and we owe you. But you do your job so gracefully, you hardly ever say anything about what you do.
President Joe Biden: (24:53)
But it matters. It matters to your families for that time when you’re sitting across from an empty chair at kitchen table, at the dining room table. For those birthdays or Christmases or holidays where they’re gone. There’s a famous English poet who said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Also serve, only standing and wait.
President Joe Biden: (25:23)
I know, Major Bean, having been deployed in Afghanistan during the pandemic has only made everything much harder during the pandemic. Want to thank you so much and your entire family’s service to our country. You’re all incredible. You so underestimate how important you are. There’s nothing that Jill and I enjoy more than spending time with our troops here and abroad. Your stationed here in the United States are deployed around the world, I’ve been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan over I think 25 times. And I’ve seen, I wish everyone could see what you do when you’re there. I wish they could see every day, how you saddle up, when you jump in that cockpit. Just see, know, it’s just doing your job.
President Joe Biden: (26:17)
Not to mention all the troops I’ve had a chance to visit in the Middle East and in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region. We’ve traveled all over, Jill’s traveled all over with me and on her own visits to service members in Iraq. I think she’s the only Second Lady ever to go into the middle of a war zone because she wanted to be there and see it.
President Joe Biden: (26:40)
I always want you to know, always, that the issues you and your family are facing we need to know how we can support you better. I mean it sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, support you better. There’s a reason for that. As I said, we Bidens are proud to have family in the military. And our son Beau’s service was among the achievements, as I said, he was most proud of.
President Joe Biden: (27:12)
My heart swelled seeing him in uniform. When I went into Iraq, I was there five times when he was in Baghdad. I remember the first time I saw him, his name was “Hunter.” I said, “What in the hell happened?” He said, “Dad, I want anybody to give me any special favors because my Vice Presidents my dad.” He got permission to put a different name tag on. I also remember what it was like to listen to him talk about the needs that people had, when he got back home. About all the folks he served with who came back with post traumatic stress and he was back being Attorney General and having to deal with it.
President Joe Biden: (28:03)
Here’s the point, you do so much and you ask for so little. Our experience is a fraction of what so many of you and your families have gone through. A family like Brittany and her kids are the absolute best America has to offer. Our heart, our honor, your solid steel spine. So my message to all of you is quite simple. Thank you. Thank you. Not thank you for your service, just, thank you for who you are. Because it’s contagious.
President Joe Biden: (28:42)
Thank you for choosing a selfless service to your country. I know we have mostly soldiers and airmen in attendance today, but there can be a lot of friendly rivalries on the base. Each branch has its own proud, cherished traditions and culture. And know how proud Langley is at the premiere 5th Generation F-22 Raptor wing. Oh God, I’d love to go up in one of those. I asked, “I’m your Commander in Chief? Why the hell can’t I command you to let me go up in one?” But they won’t let me do that.
President Joe Biden: (29:18)
Fort Eustis is one of Army’s busiest airfields, which is led by the Air Force, primarily used by the Navy. It’s all about as joint as it can possibly get. Every day the more than 20,000 members of the Air Force and Army, along with civilian personnel, come to work with a shared mission. No matter which branch of our armed forces you proudly represent, you’re part of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. That’s not hyperbole. The greatest fighting force in the history of the world. You’re integral to the most powerful nation in the world.
President Joe Biden: (30:01)
There’s been no Army, Navy or Air Force ever like here, or Marines. Here at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, you enable the success of our mission around the world. You provide intelligence support and air power. You ensure our soldiers and airmen are ready, trained to deploy the COCOMs around the world. Including this year, adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols and quarantines before to ship out. In order to minimize the spread of the virus.
President Joe Biden: (30:33)
I know that many of you deployed yourselves, probably more than once. Over the past 20 years, our volunteer force and our military families have made incredible sacrifices for this country. Early in my term as Vice-President when I traveled overseas, I’d sometime meet the service men and women who were deployed their fourth, fifth, sixth time. I remember going into Baghdad, and those who had to fly in they’d do those circular deals so we wouldn’t get shot at, or we wouldn’t get hit. I walked up in the cockpit of a silver bullet that they had me in and I asked… There were five people in the cockpit at the time, the load master as well… “How many is this your first tour?” Nobody raised their hand. “How many the second tour?” Nobody raised their hand. “Third tour?” Two raised their hand. “Fourth tour?” Two raise their hand. “Fifth tour?” One raised their hand.
President Joe Biden: (31:29)
No other war! Have you gone in, served and got back up again and go back again and again and again. Once, once. Wiping the blood off the seat of an Up-armored Humvee is enough to get you focused. Then to saddle up next time and go back, and back again? You’re incredible. The country, they owe you and this time they’re more appreciative.
President Joe Biden: (32:17)
In my generation you didn’t come home and get off an airplane in a uniform in an airport coming back from Vietnam. People would treat you with respect, but they have no idea the sacrifices you make in theater. As we get close to bringing down the longest war, draw-down in American history, a true presence in Afghanistan, I want to recognize this significance to of what all of you, the United States Armed Forces have accomplished in the past 20 years.
President Joe Biden: (32:49)
Went to Afghanistan with a clear purpose, to get the people who attacked us in 9/11 and to prevent Al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base from which to attack America in the future. We achieved that purpose. You achieved that purpose. Year after-
President Joe Biden: (33:03)
… achieve that purpose. You achieved that purpose. Year after year, deployment after deployment, American troops pursued the terrorist threat through some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet.
President Joe Biden: (33:12)
I have now had the pleasure, as they say, of being in every part of Afghanistan, from the FOBS to the Kunar Valley, down south, looking at all those poppy fields, and all in between. It’s one God forsaken landscape, but you all just showed up and did your job.
President Joe Biden: (33:34)
And it helped make sure there hasn’t been another attack on the homeland from Afghanistan for the last 20 years. And you never gave up until we delivered justice to Osama bin Laden. I got criticized after 9/11 for saying we’ll follow the son of a bitch’s gun to the gates of hell until we get him. That’s exactly what you did. That’s exactly what you did. You got him.
President Joe Biden: (34:03)
And now as we draw down, we’re also going to focus on the urgent work of rebuilding over the horizon capabilities that will allow us to take out Al-Qaeda if they return to Afghanistan. But the focus on the threat that is metastasized, the greatest threat and likelihood of attack from Al-Qaeda or ISIS is not going to be from Afghanistan, it’s going to be from five other regions of the world that have significantly more presence of both Al-Qaeda and organizational structures, including ISIS.
President Joe Biden: (34:36)
We’re going to update our security stance, and turn our forces to the threats that will dominate our future, to ensure the security of the American people for decades to come. But we’ll never, ever, ever forget the terrible costs that we’ve paid as a nation.
President Joe Biden: (34:53)
Many of you likely have lost friends and colleagues in Afghanistan and Iraq. I know this is personal to you, especially as you head into Memorial Day weekend. We as a nation will always remember, and pay tribute to those we lost.
President Joe Biden: (35:10)
After I announced my decision to end the war in Afghanistan, the first thing I did was visit Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Just walked through those headstones, seen all those stones.
President Joe Biden: (35:28)
Our son did not die in Iraq, but he came back. Went as an incredibly healthy young man, and came back with a severe brain tumor. I guess his hooch was just downwind from those burn pits. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but he came home it was just a matter of how long.
President Joe Biden: (35:51)
I still carry with me, every single solitary day, I have my staff for the last, since the war began, I have my schedule. In the back of my schedule, it says US daily troop update. US troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan, 6,927, not over 6,000. Total fallen angels across the board, over 7,000. Every one of these lives lost is a tragedy, an empty seat at the dinner table, a missing voice at the holidays. Every one of them left behind a whole community. Not just one, a whole community.
President Joe Biden: (36:46)
We can never repay that debt. But I promise you this, to all the Gold Star Families across the country, we will never, ever, ever, ever forget. Each year, Memorial Day offers us a chance to reflect on the enormity, with sacrifices that generation after generation of Americans has made. And the responsibilities that we bear, citizens bear in return.
President Joe Biden: (37:16)
I’ve said many times, it used to get me in trouble 25 years ago, 30 years ago in the Senate, America has many obligations. We only have one sacred obligation. Obligations to our children, to the elderly, and so many more things. Only one sacred obligation, it’s to prepare you when we send you in a harm’s way with everything you need, care for your families when you’re gone. When you come home, care for you, and your families, and the needs that may be a consequence of a war.
President Joe Biden: (37:54)
We owe it. We owe it to you. We particularly owe it to the memories, to affirm the very best of what America stands for, to uphold honor and democratic values. They’re the foundation of the strength of this nation.
President Joe Biden: (38:18)
I sometimes get criticized for saying what I deeply believe, having done this for the bulk of my life. We’re in a battle between democracies and autocracies. The more complicated the world becomes the more difficult is for democracies to come together and reach consensus.
President Joe Biden: (38:41)
I’ve spent more time with President Xi of China than any world leader has, for 24 hours of private meetings with him, with just an interpreter. 17,000 miles traveling with him in China and here. He firmly believes that China, before the year 3035, is going to own America, because autocracies can make quick decisions.
President Joe Biden: (39:12)
But America is unique. Of all nations in the world, we’re the only nation organized based on an idea. Every other nation you can define by their ethnicity, their geography, their religion, except America.
President Joe Biden: (39:38)
America is born out of an idea. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, et cetera.
President Joe Biden: (39:57)
None of you get your rights from your government. You get your rights merely because you are a child of God. The government is there to protect those God given rights. No other government has been based on that notion.
President Joe Biden: (40:19)
No one can defeat us except us. It’s an idea that generation of patriots have fought and died for and defended.
President Joe Biden: (40:29)
I know that’s a conviction that each and every day, you all share. That’s why you joined up. Why you run around danger and duty calls. It’s my greatest honor, it should not surprise anybody, it should be anybody’s greatest honor in all of life, to be able to serve as your Commander in Chief. No greater honor.
President Joe Biden: (40:56)
So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for spending this time with me today and thank you for your commitment to our country. Because without you, as I said, I’ll end where I began, you are the spine of America. The spine.
President Joe Biden: (41:21)
I can’t tell you how much it matters. I think you underestimate just the consequence of who you are and what you do.
President Joe Biden: (41:33)
I thank you. May God bless you. And may God protect our troops. Thanks.