Biden Attends Memorial Day Ceremony, Pays Tribute to Fallen Service Members

May 31, 2021 Updated: May 31, 2021

President Joe Biden marked Memorial Day with a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia that made reference to U.S. soldiers who have died in past conflicts.

“We owe the honored dead a debt we can never fully repay,” Biden said. “We owe them our whole souls. We owe them our full best efforts to perfect the union for which they died.”

The president stated that the United States has to honor the sacrifices of generations of service members “by sustaining the best of America while honestly confronting all that we must do to make our nation fuller, freer, and more just.”

“Empathy is the fuel of democracy,” Biden said. “Our willingness to see each other not as enemies, neighbors, even when we disagree, to understand what the other is going through.”

The president also warned about creeping authoritarianism across the world and said the United States “was built on an idea, the only nation in the world built on an idea. Every other nation is built on ethnicity, geography, religion, etcetera. We were built on an idea, the idea of liberty, an opportunity for all.”

An honor guard stands at attention
An honor guard stands at attention during a Memorial Day event attended by President Joe Biden at Veterans Memorial Park at the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle, Del., on May 30, 2021. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

“Between dreams of democracy and appetites for autocracy, which we’re seeing around the world, our troops have fought this battle on fields around the world but also the battle of our time, and the mission falls to each of us each and every day,” Biden said.

Biden also spoke about the death of his own son, Beau, who served in the Iraq War. May 30 marked the sixth anniversary of his death.

“Remember their sacrifice, their valor, and their grace,” Biden said of fallen troops. “Remember their smiles, their loves, their laughter, their essential vibrant and transcendent humanity.

“To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea how you’re feeling. Our losses are not the same, but that black hole you feel in your chest, as if it’s going to suck you into it, we get.”

At one point he pulled out a card from his pocket and noted the number of soldiers who died during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

“Seven-thousand and thirty-six fallen angels who have lost their lives to these conflicts,” Biden said. “Duty, honor, and country—they lived for it, they died for it, and we as a nation are eternally grateful.”