May 27, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden praises democracy in Memorial Day speech honoring troops

President Joe Biden participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

President Joe Biden participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, in observance of Memorial Day on May 27, 2024, in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

President Biden used his Memorial Day speech to honor troops who died fighting for the United States, saying they gave their lives in the hope of a "more perfect union" during remarks at Arlington National Cemetery.

The big picture: Biden's speech and laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are annual traditions for the president on Memorial Day.

  • Biden was accompanied at the tomb by Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

What he's saying: "We gather at this sacred place, at this solemn moment, to remember, to honor the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of women and men who have given their lives to this nation." Biden said.

  • Each of the veterans, he said, was "bound by a common commitment, not to a place, not to a person, not to a president, but to an idea unlike an idea in human history. The idea of the United States of America."
  • The president mentioned his grief over the death of his eldest son, Beau Biden, an Iraq War veteran who died in 2015 from a brain tumor developed in part by exposure to a toxic burn pit while working in Iraq.
  • Biden told the families gathered that his loss was not the same as Beau did not die on a battlefield but that "the pain of his loss is with me every day, as it is with you."

State of play: Biden used his speech to praise democracy and how it has shaped America.

  • "Our democracy is more than just a system of government, it's the very soul of America," he said.
  • "Decade after decade, tour after tour, these warriors fought for our freedom and the freedom of others. Because freedom has never been guaranteed, every generation has to earn it. Fight for it," he said.
  • "Defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy. Between the greed of a few and the rights of many."

The president also encouraged the crowd to recommit to the future of the United States, saying that the veterans they were there to honor had "a future grounded in freedom, democracy, opportunity and equality. Not just for some, but for all."

  • "America is the only country in the world founded an idea. The idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equal all throughout their lives," Biden said.
Go deeper