“We live by the light of the flame of liberty they kept burning,” Mr. Biden told the crowd eloquently. “We’re free because they were brave.”
“My Fellow Americans.”
“We’re gathered at this sacred place in this solemn hour to engage in the most fundamental of undertakings,” President Joe Biden told the assembled crowd of luminaries and dignitaries on Monday, calling Memorial Day, “The Rite of Remembrance.”
“We remember those who gave their all in the service of America, in the service of freedom, in the service of justice. We remember their sacrifice, their valor, and their grace,” said Mr. Biden.
“For while we stand amid monuments of stone, we must never forget that each of these markers, for those known and unknown, here at Arlington and far beyond represent a precious life: a son, a daughter, a mother, a spouse, a brother, a sister, a friend, a neighbor,” he reminded the crowd.
The President demonstrated, as he often does, deep empathy for those coping with the loss of a loved one.
“To all of you who are fighting with the fresh pain of loss, as hard as it is to believe,” Biden promised, “the day will come when the image of your loved one will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes.”
“The Bible teaches, ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,’ said Biden. “That comfort, that reassurance can be a long time in coming, but it will come — I promise you. And my prayer for all of you is that that day will come sooner rather than later.”
President Biden took the opportunity to remind his divided nation that Memorial Day began after the Civil War, to honor those who General John Logan, founder of this day of remembrance, called, “those who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard throughout the land.”
“And so we have and so we do again today,” the President said, “in our time, where the children of sacrifice made by a long line of American service members, each a link in that chain of honor. We live by the light of the flame of liberty they kept burning. We’re free because they were brave.”
Biden called the fallen, “heroes of the greatest experiment the world has ever known,” and, “sentinels of liberty, defenders of the downtrodden, liberators of nations.”
“And still today, Americans stand watch around the world, often at their great personal peril,” Biden acknowledged. “War and conflict, death and loss are not relics of our American history; they’re a part of Americans’ story.”
“America has been forged in the battle and the fires of war,” Biden told the assembled. “Our freedom and the freedom of innumerable others has been secured by young men and women who answered the call of history and gave everything in the service of an idea: the idea of America.”
The “idea of America,” which Biden called, “the greatest idea in the long history of humankind,” includes the, “idea that we’re all created equal in the image of Almighty God. That we’re all entitled to dignity, as my father would say, and respect, decency, and honor.”
“Love of neighbor,” he extolled the crowd; “They’re not empty words, but the vital, beating heart of our nation.” Biden called for democracy to be, “defended at all costs,” because, “democracy makes all this possible.”
“Democracy — that’s the soul of America, and I believe it’s a soul worth fighting for, and so do you; a soul worth dying for,” said President Biden. “Heroes who lie in eternal peace in this beautiful place, this sacred place, they believed that too.”
Biden didn’t shy away from the recent gun violence afflicting the nation.
“The soul of America is animated by the perennial battle between our worst instincts — which we’ve seen of late — and our better angels,” Biden pointed out. “Between ‘Me first’ and ‘We the People’”.
Those who we honor on Memorial Day, “weren’t fighting for dictators,” or, “to exclude or to enslave,” said Biden: “They were fighting for democracy,” and to, “build and broaden and liberate.”
“They weren’t fighting for self; they were fighting for the soul of the nation,” Biden added, “for liberty and simple fair play — simple fair play and decency.”
This Memorial Day, Biden encouraged Americans to, “remind ourselves of our duty to their memory, to the future they fought for. We owe the honored dead a debt we can never fully repay.”
“Democracy is more than a form of government,” Biden continued. “It’s a way of being; it’s a way of seeing the world. Democracy means the rule of the people.”
“The lives of billions, from antiquity to our own hour, have been shaped by the battle between aspirations of the many and the greed of the few,” the President said. “Between people’s right to self-determination and the self-seeking of the dictator. 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,” said Mr. Biden. “And the mission falls to each of us, each and every day. Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world.”
President Biden asked Americans to, “honor the memory of the fallen,” so that, “democracy will long endure.”
“Every generation has to fight for it,” the President said. “But, look, it’s the biggest question: Whether a system that prizes the individual, that bends towards liberty, that gives everybody a chance at prosperity — whether that system can and will prevail against powerful forces that wish it harm.”
“All that we do in our common life as a nation is part of that struggle,” Biden said. “The struggle for democracy is taking place around the world- democracy and autocracy. The struggle for decency and dignity- just simple decency. The struggle for posterity- prosperity and progress. And, yes, the struggle for the soul of America itself.”
“Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong; when people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently; when a free and independent press pursues the truth, founded on facts, not propaganda; when the rule of law applies equally and fairly to every citizen, regardless of where they come from or what they look like,” the President said.
“Wherever Americans are, there is democracy,” Biden went on. “Churches and synagogues and mosques, neighborhoods and coffee shops and diners, bleachers at kids’ baseball or soccer games, libraries and parks.”
“And that’s where it will be preserved” Biden continued. “For empathy is the fuel of democracy. Let me say that again: Empathy is the fuel of democracy, a willingness to see each other — not as enemies. Neighbors; even when we disagree, to understand what the other is going through.”
“Our democracy is imperfect,” Biden admitted. “It always has been. But Americans of all backgrounds, races, creeds, gender identities, sexual orientations, have long spilled their blood to defend our democracy. The diversity of our country and of our armed services is and always has been an incredible strength.”
“Generation after generation of American heroes have signed up to be part of the fight because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart: that liberation, opportunity, justice are far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than an autocracy,” Biden reminded his fellow Americans.
“If every person is sacred, then every person’s rights are sacred,” Biden said. “Individual dignity; individual worth; individual sanctity; the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We say those words so often, but think of it: the right to vote, the right to rise in a world as far as your talent can take you, unlimited by unfair barriers of privilege and power — such are the principles of democracy.”
“So how would you put these noble principles into practice?” President Biden asked. “How do we do that? How do we make the idea real, or as close to real as we can make it?”
“This nation was built on an idea — the only nation in the world built on an idea,” Mr. Biden extolled. “Every other nation was built on ethnicity, geography, religion, et cetera.”
“We were built on an idea of liberty and opportunity for all,” Biden contrasted. “We have never fully realized that aspiration of our founding, but every generation has opened the door a little wider, and every generation has opened it wider and wider to be more inclusive, to include those who have been excluded before. It’s a mission handed down generation to generation: the work of perfecting our union.”
“Now as then, unity is essential to life; liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Biden went on later in his speech. “And so we remember those who gave their all in the cause of unity, in the cause of a nation that endures because of them.”
“We must honor their sacrifice by sustaining the best of America, while honestly confronting all that we must do to make our nation fuller, freer, and more just,” the President said. “We must remember that we may find the light and the wisdom and, yes, the courage to move forward — in the words of that great hymn, fight as they, ‘nobly fought of old’.”
“For in remembrance lies not just our history, but our hope,” Biden said. “Not just our solemn remembrance, but our renewed purpose. Not just our solace, but our strength.”
This Memorial Day, President Biden said, “we all are called, by God and by history and by conscience, to make our nation free and fair, just and strong, noble and whole.”
“To this battle, may we now dedicate our souls, that our work may prove worthy of the blood of our fallen,” the President asked. “For this work — the work of democracy — is the work of our time, and for all time. And if we do our duty, then ages still to come will look back on us and say that we too kept the faith. And there’s nothing more important, nothing more sacred, nothing more American than keeping the faith.”
“May God bless the United States of America,” the President ended. “And may the light perpetually shine upon the fallen. May God bring comfort to their families. And may God protect our troops, today and always.”
“May God bless you all,” President Biden said at last, closing out remarks that fit our time and call upon everyone to sustain the better angels of our American nature.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)