May 30, 2023

President Biden Delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 155th National Memorial Day Observance Transcript

President Biden Delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 155th National Memorial Day Observance Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsArlingtonPresident Biden Delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 155th National Memorial Day Observance Transcript

President Biden Delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 155th National Memorial Day Observance. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 2 (00:00):

Present, Present Arms. (Singing) Order Right Shoulder Arms. Present Present Arms. Order Right Shoulder Arms.

Speaker 1 (05:50):

The wreath ceremony is now complete. The Memorial Day observance will begin momentarily. Please move to your seats. Please stand for the arrival of the official party for the invocation and national anthem. Distinguished guests, the President of the United States, accompanied by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Distinguished guests, Chaplain Colonel James Foster, Command Chaplain, Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, and the United States Army Military District of Washington.

Speaker 3 (07:45):

I invite you to bow your heads with humble and grateful hearts. As I now pray.

On this Memorial Day, I lift my voice in thanks to the Almighty and amazing God. I thank you for the sacrifices made, for the blood that was shed, for the hearts that were broken, for our freedoms, for our salvation, for the lives we enjoy today and tomorrow. God, death is so very real and the grave is undeniable, but it is not the end. We continue to stand and we continue to unite together in strength and have a hope in the victories to come. In my feeble attempt to do so, Lord, along with all those around this nation, I call upon you to help us as a people to uphold the ideals of this great nation. That we might stand resolute with our forefathers and declare with confidence these same words inscribed on the marble above, that those who died, who lie in the hallowed grounds around us and around the globe, whom we honor today did not give their lives in vain.

We honor them, Lord, with our devoted lives. Grant us your strength to embolden the weak. Give courage to do what is right and give us a unity of spirit to bind us together. God, stir us, awaken us, help us to walk by faith and give you glory. In your holy name I pray. Amen.

Speaker 1 (09:35):

Please remain standing for the United States Navy Band and Sea Chanters Chorus in singing our national anthem. (singing) Please be seated. Distinguished guests, General Mark Milley.

Speaker 4 (11:27):

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madame Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Secretary Austin, fellow Joint Chiefs of Staff and spouses, distinguished guests, fellow Americans, and most importantly Gold Star families. Welcome to all. Today, we join in remembrance of the 155th observance of Memorial Day. It is a day of profound significance in the legacy of our nation. On this day, we remember the over 1 million Americans that took

Speaker 4 (12:00):

… their last breath on the bedrock of liberty, supporting the eternal cause of freedom. Their unwavering commitment, their dedication to freedom, their echoes through the ages reminding us of our sacred duty to remember. And behind every one of these men and women is a family, a husband or a wife, a mother or a father, a brother or sister, son or a daughter. For these families, every day is Memorial Day, and they each carry on the dreams that our fallen could never fully realize.

This land where we stand today once housed three, four sentinels, which overlooked and defended Washington D.C. But now it serves a more precise purpose. It is the final resting place of our nation’s bravest, a quiet testament to their sacrifice. We gather on these sacred grounds where over 400,000 are buried here at Arlington National Cemetery’s 85 sections. They tell the story of our nation, a narrative not written in ink, but written in valor and sacrifice. This cemetery paints the picture of the cost required for all of us to remain free. Some here are buried amongst their family in legacies which transcend generations. Others are best friends who fought together, died together, are now unbroken even by death.

Yet, our nation’s fallen are not only represented on these hallowed grounds, they’re represented on every piece of land where American blood has been spilled in the service of our country, sail and are resting in the seabed at Pearl Harbor, in the white headstones of 9,387 Americans enshrined outside St. [foreign language 00:14:10] in France overlooking the sands of Omaha Beach, as well as the more than 81,500 Americans who still remain missing. Our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who have never returned home. The search for these missing will continue until they’re all brought home. It is our final solemn promise to these heroes, their families, and to our nation.

Each of these Americans epitomize our tradition of honor, the ethos which defines our armed forces and defines our nation. Individually, they represent the single life cut short, life events never accomplished. We feel their absence in the very depths of our hearts. But together they represent the indomitable spirit of the American military. They’re a permanent reminder that freedom is a gift to us all, a gift paid for by those who gave in the words of Lincoln, the last full measure of devotion. And today, today we honor them. We remember them. And today we say their names. And in doing so, we ensure their sacrifice will never be forgotten. We will forever walk among these giants as we continue to uphold the cause for which they died, the cause of America, which will endure through all challenges. In fact, the greatest honor that we can bestow upon those who have fallen, the way to remember them the best is to ensure that this idea of freedom, that the Constitution of the United States of America, the idea that is America will continue for our posterity and shall not perish from this earth. Thank you.

Speaker 6 (16:10):

Distinguished guests, the United States Navy Band and the Sea Chanters Chorus will perform “This Land Is Your Land.”

Speaker 5 (16:18):

<singing> As I went walking that ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway. I saw below me that golden valley. This land was made for you and me. This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York island. Form the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream water, this land was made for you and me. I roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps to the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts and all around me a voice was sounding, this land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining and I was strolling and the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling, as the fog was lifting a voice was singing, this land was made for you and me. This land is your land, this land is my land from California to the New York island, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream water. This land was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me as I go walking that freedom highway. Nobody living can ever make me turn back. This land was made for you and me. This land is your land. This land is my land from California to the New York island, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream water. This land was made for you and me, you and me.

Speaker 6 (20:10):

Distinguished guests, the Honorable Lloyd Austin III.

Lloyd Austin III (20:22):

Well let’s gives the band and the chorus another round of applause. That was absolutely outstanding. Well good morning, President Biden, Dr. Biden, Vice President Harris, Mr. Imhoff, distinguished guests. I am absolutely honored to be here with you this morning. And thank you General Milley for your leadership. To our gold star families and to all who remember a fallen American hero today, I know that each Memorial Day brings new waves of both pride and pain. And on behalf of the Department of Defense, please accept our country’s deepest gratitude for all that you have given and our deepest sympathies for all that you have lost. We pledge again today to ensure that you and your families have the support that you need and deserve. You will always be a part of our military family. And we hold in our hearts all those who fail to defend the country that they love. Each of them has a story.

And one of the stories of the graves here at Arlington belongs to Chaplain Charles Waters. He was a Catholic priest who signed up to serve during the Vietnam War and to support his teammates in body and soul. And after a yearlong deployment, he volunteered to extend his tour for another six months. In one November day in 1967, his battalion hit fierce fighting and Chaplain Waters ran unarmed into the battle, exposed to mortar, fire, bullets and automatic weapons. He helped get wounded soldiers to safety and he gave last rights to the fallen. At one point, he saw a US paratrooper and in the line of enemy fire. Chaplain Waters hoisted the paratrooper on his shoulders and carried him to safety. And tragically, later that day, Chaplain Waters was killed. And for his extraordinary heroism, this paratrooper, patriot and priest who volunteered twice wants to serve and once to extend his tour was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

This year, our country celebrates the 50th anniversary of our all volunteer force. In the life of Charles Waters, Charles Waters offered a preview of the vigor and the valor of the American warriors who have chosen to step up and serve from 1973 until this day. Our all volunteer force has blended military power with moral power and combined the force of American arms with the strength of people who freely choose to stand guard over our democracy.

In 1970, the Gates Commission recommended eliminating conscription, and its formal report predicted that an all volunteer force will strengthen our freedoms and our armed forces,

Lloyd Austin III (24:00):

And it did. Every time a qualified American stands up and raises their hand and serves with honor from any corner of the country, from any background, color, or creed, this exceptional nation becomes even safer and stronger. Every fallen hero has a story. It is our duty to remember those we have lost, it is our honor to stand with their families, and it is our sacred obligation to remember all that you have given. So let us strive to honor the memory of our fallen by writing the next chapters in America’s story of service, and let us stand with all who pledge their lives to defend human freedom, and let us come together as one nation to strengthen our democracy. Ladies and gentlemen, our commander in chief has long been a champion of our men and women in uniform, and of the military families who serve right alongside them. And on this day of sorrow and service, it is my absolute honor to introduce the President of the United States.

Joe Biden (25:27):

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please. 155 years ago, retired Union general James Garfield spoke here at Arlington, marking our nation’s first Memorial Day. Standing amid rows and rows of marble stones, many of his own fallen soldiers among them, he asked, “What brought these men here? What high motive led them to welcome death?” And he answered his own question. He said, “Our nation’s life.” My fellow Americans, Jill, Vice President Harris, second gentleman Emhoff, secretary Austin, secretary McDonough, secretary Mayorkas, general Millie, and most importantly, veterans, servicemen and women, and their survivors, today we once again gather in this sacred place at this solemn hour to honor fallen heroes. To once again stand amid the rows and rows of marble stones and bear witness to the brave women and men who served and sacrificed for our freedom and for our future. Those who died, so our nation might live.

Every year, as a nation, we undertake this right of remembrance. For we must never forget the price that was paid to protect our democracy. We must never forget the lives these flags, flowers, and marble markers represent. A mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a sister, a spouse, a friend, an American. Every year we remember, and every year it never gets easier. To all those here and across the nation who are grieving the loss of a loved one who wore the uniform, our gold star families, to all those with loved ones still missing and unaccounted for, I know how painful it can be, how it can rip open that black hole in the center of your chest you feel like you’re just sinking into.

Bringing you back to that exact moment, you heard that knock on the door or the telephone ring. The exact moment you had to tell your children, and mom or dad would not be coming home. The hurt is still real. It’s still raw. Tomorrow marks eight years since we lost our son, Beau. Our losses are not the same. He didn’t perish in the battlefield. It was cancer that stole him from us a year after being deployed as a major in the United States Army National Guard in Iraq. As it is for so many of you, the pain of his loss is with us every day, but particularly sharp on Memorial Day. Still clear. Tomorrow’s is his anniversary.

But so is the pride Jill and I feel in his service, as if I can still hear him saying, “Dad, it’s my duty, dad. It’s my duty.” Duty. That was the code my son lived by and all those you lost live by. It’s the creed that millions of service members have followed from the fields of Yorktown to the shores of Normandy, to the rice paddies of Busan, to the valleys of Kandahar, of the mountains of Sinjar and beyond. Many of whom never returned home. Throughout history, these women and men laid down their lives not for a place or a person or a president, but for an idea unlike any other idea in all of human history. The idea of the United States of America. This sanctuary honors that sacrifice and tells our stories, and in turn, it tells our story, the American story, the story of the patriot who died to deliver a nation where everyone is entitled to certain inalienable rights, among them, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.

The story of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who shed their blood to make these words real. The story of the brave Americans who fought the forces of fascism and died for preservation of democracy. And as we’re reminded by the hundreds of graves here in Section 60 of Arlington and across our nation, the story of the women and men who sacrificed everything to keep democracy safe and secure during the last two decades. Each of them a link in the chain of honor that stretches back to our Founding Fathers in those days, unbreaking, unbending, not just in their duty and devotion, but something even deeper. In their faith in us. Their faith in us. That we will be worthy of their sacrifice. Our service members have always embodied the highest expectations of our democracy. They’ve always held faith in our country and all that we could be. A citadel of liberty. A beacon of freedom. For our democracy is our strength, the wellspring of possibilities and the source of endless, endless renewal.

It’s how we’ve been able to constantly change and adapt through the centuries. It’s why we’ve always emerged from every challenge we face stronger than we entered it. It’s how we come together as one nation, united. And why there’s nothing we can’t do in America when we do it together. It’s the truth. We celebrate this year as we mark 75 years of a desegregated military, 75 years of women’s full integration, 50 years an all volunteer force. Throughout the annals of history our troops have fought for our democracy, and if necessary died for it. Today their service and sacrifice and that of their families, that goes far beyond those silent stones out there. We’ve seen the strength of our NATO alliance built from the bonds that we forever forged in the fires of two world wars. We see it in the troops still standing sentinel on the Korean peninsula, preserving peace side by side with our allies. We see it in every base, every barrack, every vessel around the globe where our military proudly serves and stands as a force for good in the world. And just as they’ve kept the ultimate faith to our country, to our democracy, we must keep the ultimate faith to them as a nation. And people have heard me say this for a long time, as a nation, we have many obligations, but I believe in every fiber on my being, we have only one truly sacred obligation. To prepare those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home and when they don’t. It’s a sacred obligation, not based on party or politics, but on a promise. A promise to unite all of us. There is nothing more important, nothing more sacred, nothing more American. Together, over the last two and a half years, we’ve worked to make good on that promise, passing more than 25 bipartisan laws to support our service members, their families, caregivers, and survivors.

That includes the PACT Act, the most significant law on our nation’s history, to help millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic substances and burn pits during their military service. Pits the size of football fields that incinerated the waste of war, such as tires, chemicals,

Joe Biden (36:00):

… chemicals, jet fuel and so much more. Too many of our nation’s warriors that have selflessly served only to return home and suffer from the permanent effects of this poison of smoke. Too many have died. Excuse the personal reference like my son Beau, or like Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, for whom the Act is named.

Last year, after I signed the PACT Act, I handed the pen to his daughter, Brielle. She and her grandmother are with us today. After I handed her the pen, this beautiful little girl, who’s sitting over there. Thank you for waiving, baby. Who had lost half of her world, her whole world, held a pen in her hand and looked at me and said, thank you for my daddy. “Thank you for my daddy. Thank you for my daddy.” God love you, honey.

But I don’t think she was just thanking me. She was thanking all of us. Everyone who fought so hard and came together to keep our promise to our veterans, to keep the faith with our heroes.

On this day, we come together again to reflect, to remember, but above all, to recommit to the future our fallen heroes fought, for that generation of service members who died for a future grounded in freedom, democracy, equality, tolerance, opportunity, and yes, justice. We use those words all the time, but we’ve seen of late here, and around the world that they have to continually be fought for, not just for some, but for all.

This is more important than just our system of government. It’s the very soul of America. A soul that was forged by our nation’s first patriots. A soul that triumphed over trials and testing less than a century later. A soul that endured because of the sacrifice of generations and generations of a service members ever since.

Together, we’re not just the fortunate inheritors of their legacy. We must be the keeper of their mission, the bearers of the flame of freedom that kept burning bright for nearly 247 years. That’s the truest memorial to their lives. Our actions every day to ensure that our democracy endures, our constitution endures, and the soul of our nation, our decency endures.

Ladies and gentlemen, 155 years ago, our ancestors stood here and asked themselves, what brought our heroes to this hallowed ground? What high motive led these brave souls, as General Garfield said, to welcome death? Today we must ask ourselves, what can we do? What must we do to pull the vision for which they lived and which they died? Today, it’s on all of us, all of us, to ensure that sacrifice was not in vain, to keep working toward a more perfect union. One where all women and all men are created equal.

We’re the only nation in the world built on an idea. Every other nation is formed based on things like geography, ethnicity, religion. We’re the only nation in the world built on an idea that we’re all created equal. We haven’t always lived up to it, but we’ve never walked away from it. And today, standing together to honor those Americans who dared all and gave all for our nation, we can say clearly we never will. God bless all those who gave their lives so our nation might live. God bless their families and may God protect our troops, today and always. Thank you.

Speaker 8 (41:33):

Distinguished guests. Please stand for the playing of Taps in the benediction.

Speaker 7 (42:57):

Please receive this closing prayer. God, those were such solemn tones that means so much to us as a nation. Pray that you grant us the grace to never forget, to lead lives worthy of the price paid on our behalf by those who have gone on before and those who continue to serve. God, with all humility, I thank you for your goodness to this nation, to our service members, and their families. As our president has stated, God, we have a soul. And I pray that you would help us to align our faith correctly. And God preserve the soul of this nation, preserve the souls of those that serve. With great expectation, I ask you to protect them now, wherever they may be, for some are in harm’s way this day and many are separated from the ones they love. Bless our government, it’s leaders, and provide godly counsel and wisdom to guide us in your will. God, please do bless America, this nation that we love so much. It’s in your holy name I pray. Amen.

Speaker 8 (44:15):

Please remain standing for the singing of God Bless America, performed by the United States Navy Band and Sea Chanters chorus.

Chorus (44:22):

God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her. Through the night with the light from above. From the mountains to the prairies. To the oceans white with foam. God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her. Through the night with the light from above. From the mountains to the prairies. To the oceans white with foam. God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America, my home sweet home.

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