The White House
Office of the Vice President
Remarks by the Vice President at Memorial Service at Fort Lewis
Fort Lewis Chapel, Fort Lewis, Washington
THE VICE PRESIDENT: My name is Joe Biden. And on behalf of the President of the United States, I'm here to express my condolences to all those we honor today, and others who are here -- Gold Star families, who I had the opportunity to meet; and to this base, which has suffered an extraordinary loss.
"Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and a perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction."
Thus spoke Thomas Jefferson, describing Meriwether Lewis -- the namesake of this fort. Lewis's undaunted courage, his firmness and perseverance of purpose -- it lives in every corner of this base, and I suspect in the character and heart of all of you who serve in this base. And now it will be eternally embodied by the service and sacrifice of Sergeant First Class Gonzalez, Sergeant Fernando Delarosa, Sergeant Dale Griffin, Sergeant Issac Jackson, Sergeant Patrick Williamson, and Specialist Jared Stanker, and Private First Class Christopher Walz.
Just before walking into this chapel, I had the honor to meet, as I said, some Gold Star families, in addition to the families represented here of those we honor today. And they're all -- they're all incredible people. It amazes me, getting the chance to talk to each of them, their courage in being able to deal with what is the most tragic of losses. They all suffer from the loss of someone who meant the world to them: Captain John Hallett; Captain Cory Jenkins; Sergeant Andrew McConnell; Specialist Aaron Aamat; Specialist Kevin Graham; Specialist Joseph White.
Like every Blue Star family member, as my wife and I are, you realize that but for the grace of God we could be a member of that organization -- Gold Star parents. In a sense, those of us who've had children, husbands and wives who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I guess we all share a sense of relief and a sense of guilt that we're here, having our loved ones back.
I've unfortunately had the occasion to be at more than one memorial service as both Vice President and as a grieving father and husband. As Vice President, I'm here to praise and honor your sons, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers, and let you know that the President and all the United States of America honors the sacrifice they've made and that you made.
But as a father and a husband, I'm here to share with you the pain and to grieve with you, for I know there is nothing that any of us can say, clearly nothing I can say, that is likely to heal you today -- no solace I can offer to numb the grief consuming the wives and children and parents of those who are left behind -- that void you feel in your chest, that deep black hole that feels like it's sucking you in.
I wish I could. I wish I knew the words to say. But from my experience, no one could say them to me, and I doubt whether I can say them to you.
The poet William Cowper said -- and I quote -- "Grief is itself a medicine." It's a bitter medicine, but perhaps the only medicine for a time like this, the only method of the human heart to heal itself from wounds of such incredible depth.
Not today but someday, God willing, there will be some consolation you'll find in the knowledge that your son, your husband, your brother, your father gave his life in the pursuit of the noblest of all earthly goals: defending his family, defending his country, defending and fighting for what he believed in. That pursuit defined each of the warriors we honor today; each of the fallen angels that we brought home. And it will define them, and has defined them, until the very end.
Although I had not had the occasion to meet these fallen heroes on my trips to Afghanistan, I know them. I know them because I've read about them, I've seen where they fight and fought and died, and I've had a chance to meet some of their family members. And I'm struck by the fact that, to a man, being a soldier wasn't just something each of them did -- it was who they were. They were heroes. They were warriors. They knew the risk, yet day after day they'd saddle up and go out into no man's land and do the job.
I always marvel back to the days when I was with you, General Chiarelli, in Iraq -- to watch true heroism as a man or a woman gets up every morning, goes out and does the same thing they did the day before, knowing the risk that they're taking. I marvel at all of you. I marvel at, the 17 times I've been into those two theaters, how we trained -- you have trained. It seems like it's in the DNA of the women and men of this country to go out, day after day, and do that job.
William Shakespeare said, "Cowards die many times before their death. The valiant never taste death but once." There is no greater valiance than to serve your country, to sacrifice your precious time here on Earth for the ideals that will, because of your heroism, eventually light the darkest corners of the globe. And I might add, for all of you who stayed behind, the famous quote, "Those also serve who stand and wait." So many of you, so many of you have given so much, so much to this country, at a time when there are so few people making the sacrifice.
The country honors what has been done and what continues to be done, and honors your husbands and your wives and your daughters and your sons. But their life goes on after they honor. But you, every single day, continue. You understand the loneliness of being separated, the danger that your spouse or son or daughter is undertaking, and you go on every day, like every day is normal. You're an amazing, an amazing group of people.
General Shalikashvili, you told me a long, long time ago about the spirit of these kids -- they're not kids, they're grown men and women -- but it's amazing to me, it's amazing how so few do so much for so many. It's that valiance that animates our memories of the 833 men and women who have sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan, and of the 4,360 who we've lost in Iraq.
It's that valiance that we remember here today at Fort Lewis. It's that valiance that we honor today at Fort Hood. And it's that valiance that we'll celebrate tomorrow, our nation's 91st Veterans Day.
Today, these seven men take their place on the rolls of the greatest American heroes. And the rest of us -- all the rest of America -- should once again be reminded and rededicate ourselves to a simple proposition: The only sacred responsibility we have as a nation -- the only sacred responsibility we have as a nation -- is to give all those we send all they need, and care for them and their families when they come home. That's the only truly sacred obligation our government has.
Meriwether Lewis -- soldier, explorer, a leader of men -- when speaking of his historic expedition, said of those under his command, “With such men I have everything to hope, but little to fear.”
Well, I say to all Americans today: Knowing these seven men are watching over us now, and that our military is filled with thousands upon thousands of women and men like them -- I think we can believe that, even as we struggle with tragedy, even as we grapple with the profound loss and devastating grief, we can look up at the heavens, think of those heroes, and know with certainty that we have everything to hope, but little to fear, thanks to them.
And I say again to the families that I've had the chance to meet and those that I will not have a chance to meet: I know these men were a great deal more than soldiers and warriors to you. They were the father who tucked you in at night; they're the husband who knew your fears before you expressed them; they're the brother who lifted you up; they're the son that made you laugh, and made you proud.
They loved their classic cars, their snowboarding, their country music, rap, video games, motorcycles. They played spades, dominoes. They were decent, ordinary -- but yet extraordinary -- young men. They were so much more to their country as well: They are our warriors; they are our heroes. They are all of our sons; and they are all of our brothers.
And, as a nation, as hollow as it sounds to say, we grieve with you. We don't have the sense of the profound grief you're experiencing today, but we grieve with you. And we owe you -- we owe you more than you can ever be repaid.
Let me close on a personal note, if I may, to the family members I met today. Although there's no way to fathom this now -- I promise you, from my own experience, that the day will come that the memory of your son, your brother, your husband will immediately bring a smile to your lips, and not a tear to your eye. That day will come, I promise you. But my prayer for all of you is it comes sooner than later.
May God bless you all, and may God protect our troops.