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'We're free because they were brave': Biden honors Memorial Day dead at Arlington National Cemetery

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden promised to "never fail to honor the sacrifice" of the American armed forces in Memorial Day remarks Monday.

"We're free because they were brave. Here on these gentle rolling green hills and across America and around the globe lie buried the heroes of the greatest experiment the world has ever known, ever seen," Biden said at Arlington National Cemetery.

Biden referenced the loss his family experienced after the death of his son Beau, an Iraq War veteran, from brain cancer in 2015.

"Our losses are not the same, but that black hole you feel in your chest that you will fall in, we understand," the president said.

President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin honor the fallen and those now serving at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.
President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin honor the fallen and those now serving at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

Biden noted that "war and conflict, death and loss are not relics of American history: they are part of the American story," citing fallen troops from the Civil War to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Today that number is 7,036 – 7,036 fallen angels who lost their lives in these conflicts. And on this Memorial Day, we honor their legacy and their sacrifice," Biden said. "They lived for it. They died for it. And we as a nation are eternally grateful."

Biden also cautioned against autocracy.

"Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world. What we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether democracy will long endure."

The president declared that "empathy is the fuel of democracy," and he called on Americans to "find the light and the wisdom and, yes, the courage to move forward" as a country.

Before the president's remarks, senior military leaders and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke, honoring those now serving as well as fallen troops. Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also were there.

"Our Gold Star and surviving families wage a fight that goes on long after the funerals. And it is our sacred duty to do more to ease the burden that they shoulder on Memorial Day and every day, because as long as America has sent our sons and daughters into harm's way, those on the home front have also been on the front lines," Austin said.

"And Mr. President, you know firsthand the pride of seeing the loved one put on our country's uniform. You also know what it means to wait and worry while a son serves in a battle zone far away. And you know what it means to commit American troops to fight," the secretary said.

"We know your sacrifice, but we truly never know the depths of your loss," Austin said.

On Sunday, Biden also commended service members, calling those in uniform the "solid spine of this country" at an annual Memorial Day service at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware.

“As a nation, we must always remember ... the price that was paid for our liberties. We must remember the debt we owe those who have paid it and the families left behind,” Biden said.

Memorial Day, celebrated the last Monday of May, commemorates the lives of military personnel who have died while in service.

“As many of you know, this is a hard day for us. Six years ago today, Hunter lost his dad, and I lost my son," Biden said, referencing his grandson Hunter, who sat next to him.

President Joe Biden arrives at Veterans Memorial Park at the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle, Del., on Sunday.
President Joe Biden arrives at Veterans Memorial Park at the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Castle, Del., on Sunday.

Delaware Gov. John Carney and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., were also there. Carper led the crowd in reciting the preamble of the Constitution before Biden's remarks.

Biden also referenced his June 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a recent conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he'd stress the importance of human rights to both leaders.

The service ended with a 21-gun salute amid light rain over the Delaware River.

Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden honors Memorial Day dead at Arlington National Cemetery

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