Today, we salute all the brave men and women who keep us safe. Earlier today at Arlington National Cemetery, Vice President Biden said it best: "Veterans are the heart, soul and spine of our nation." In honor of Veteran's Day, we reproduce the Vice President's full speech.
Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Veterans Day, in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, November 11, 2014.
"To all the distinguished guests here, let me say, particularly to the Gold Star families, to say how much I appreciate the opportunity, the privilege of being able to speak here today. It’s one of the great privileges a President or a Vice President has, to be able to literally speak on this sacred ground. It’s the second occasion I’ve had in my tenure as Vice President.
It’s a beautiful, beautiful autumn day. The sun is shining, the skies are clear, the temperature is perfect. Nothing like the scorching heat, the bitter cold, and intense storms that confronted many of you here today and our troops through every conflict in every age.
Today, sunshine is nothing like the scorching heat our veterans endured while battling across the sunbaked Coral Islands in the Pacific, and, in some cases, going days without water; nothing like the hardships faced by a generation of Americans who waded through the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam; nothing compared to the 115-degree heat in Fallujah as a young warrior climbed to an MRAP to show me how it had saved his life; nothing compared to what our young men fought through in 25-degree-below-zero temperatures in the North Korea mountains, pinned down by heavy enemy fire on the frozen ground 60 years ago; and nothing compared to the snow and cold that hampered our forces in the Ardennes Forest 66 years ago.
One of my favorite lines is from a book by John Steinbeck, East of Eden, where Cyrus Trask describes to his son Adam what it means to be a soldier, and here’s he says to his son: 'A soldier is the most holy of all humans because he is the most tested. A soldier must coldly learn to put himself in the way of losing his own life without going mad. If you can bring yourself to face not shadows but real death, described and recognizable, by bullet or sabre, arrow or lance, then you need never be afraid again.'
You are the veterans of America, the most trusted among us, and the most tested of all Americans. Collectively, you represent generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen who have served and sacrificed for all of us. You are not only the heart and soul, but you are the very spine of this nation. And as a nation, we pause today to thank more than 23 million surviving veterans who so bravely and faithfully protected our freedom. You gave and they gave, and you deserve our thanks.
We stand here today committed to show our respect, to honor and to recognize our responsibility to care for all our veterans, and for those who continue in harm’s way as I speak to you today.
Since 9/11, 3.5 million women and men have joined the military with the near certainty of knowing that they would be deployed. And they have. Over 2.6 million of this generation have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of you have been deployed multiple times to both places, and more than half of you have returned to civilian life with the honored title of 'veteran.'
The 9/11 generation took on a responsibility that extended far beyond base or battlefield. They were prepared to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, and they did. And they continue as committed. Never before has America asked so much over such a sustained period of an all-volunteer force. And like so many generations before them, this generation of 9/11 warriors has paid an incredible price.
Every day for the past six years, I asked my staff early in the morning to contact the Department of Defense to get a detailed report on the number of troops deployed, the number wounded, and the number killed. Not a general number, the exact number... every day. Because for every one of those warriors, there’s an entire family, an extended family back in America that has bled or is bleeding.
As of this morning, U.S. troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan: 6,703. Troops wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan: [sic]. Troops still deployed, combat in Afghanistan: 19,650. Security assistance in Iraq: 1,400.
Like some of you, I’ve seen the incredible sacrifices they’ve made and continue to make. It’s been my honor over the last two decades to visit our troops in the field from Bosnia to Kosovo, Iraq to Afghanistan; from Fallujah to Baghdad, from the Kunar Valley to Helmand Province. And I’ve never, ever once failed to be impressed by the intelligence, the grit, the resolve, the patriotism of these young women and men.
And every time–and I’ve been accompanied by some of the people behind me–every time I’ve been in the field with them, I’ve found myself thinking, if only everyone in America could see what I’m seeing, taste what I’m tasting, understand what these warriors are doing. And no one knows better than this audience that it’s not just the veteran that has been asked to sacrifice and serve, it’s his or her family, his mother or father, children, especially the husbands and wives.
The English poet John Milton once wrote, 'They also serve who only stand and wait.' When our son Beau, a major in the Delaware National Guard, was deployed to Iraq for a year, my wife, who’s a professor, would leave early for school, and I’d get up and I’d walk into the little kitchen in the Vice President’s home, and without fail I’d see her standing over the sink with a cup of coffee in her hand mouthing a prayer that the wife of the adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard gave her.
You’ve all done that... you spouses, you moms, your dads, your children. When they were deployed, there [weren't] three hours that went by that they didn’t cross your mind. You all know what it’s like. And we owe you, we owe you as much as we owe your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives.
My Jill points out that only fewer than 1 percent of America’s population serves in uniform, but over 99 percent of Americans owe that 1 percent so much more than we could ever repay. It’s my firm belief that we do owe them. We have an obligation to care for and equip those who we send to war, and care for them and their families when they come home. As I said earlier, it’s the only sacred obligation a government has, and we’re honor-bound to keep it.
You’re absolutely remarkable, you veterans. Jill and I have visited wounded veterans in hospitals around the world multiple times: from Landstuhl in Germany to Brooke Army Medical Center, Walter Reed [and] so many other places. We spend Christmas Day at Reed all day. And the reason I mention that is you’ve had the experience I have had: walking into the room of a wounded warrior with his or her family. And I always ask the same question–I’ve talked to General Dempsey about this, he’s done the same–asked the same question: What can I do for you, soldier? What can I do for you sailor, Marine, airman, coast guardsman? What can I do for you?
And the answer I get almost every time is stunning, and Americans should know it, and you understand it. The answer I most often get is, Mr. Vice President, sir, can you get me back to my unit? Mr. Vice President, sir, can you get me back to my unit? I’ve learned so much, I can help.
Jill and I recently hosted a team of wounded warriors at our home, several hundred, as they prepared to represent the United States of America in a competition in London called The Invictus Games for wounded warriors. And it struck me that there couldn’t have been a more appropriate description of the determination and commitment and the character shown by all of our veterans than these games referred to as The Invictus Games.
The poet William Ernest Henly wrote a poem called “Invictus.” And the last stanza of that poem says, 'It matters not how strait the gate, how charged the punishment the scroll, I’m the master of my fate, I’m the captain of my soul–I’m the master of my fate, I’m the captain of my soul.'
Every single generation of veterans throughout our history has been the best that this country has had to offer. It’s as true today as it was 200 years ago, when a generation of warriors held the ramparts at Fort McHenry against the full might of the British Navy in the Battle of Baltimore. As the dawn’s early light broke following that battle, a young lawyer named Frances Scott Key looked toward the fort’s flagpole asking a simple question: 'Does that star spangled banner yet wave?' That question and its implications and its aspirations have echoed through every perilous fight that has turned what we’ve turned to American veterans.
Did that star spangled banner wave in the hands of Civil War sergeant William Carney, the first African American Medal of Honor recipient, as he took that banner from a falling comrade and charged the ramparts of Fort Wagner? Did that star spangled banner yet wave over the observation post that Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Ryan Pitts held against enemy rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire in the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan? Did that star spangled banner yet wave over six Marines atop Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima? Did that star spangled banner yet wave over American troops in trenches in France, beaches of Normandy, mountains of Korea, jungles of Vietnam, streets of Fallujah, and the valleys of Afghanistan?
And does that star spangled banner yet wave over every forward position, ship, base, woman, and man deployed in the service of our nation today? Does it wave on the front porches of families waiting out those deployments, silently praying for their warrior’s safe return? Does it wave over Walter Reed, Fort Belvoir, The Center for the Intrepid, the VA polytrauma center, and so many other places where American warriors continue their march to recovery?
It waves in every police station, fire house, school, business, and little league field where American veterans serve their community while standing ready in the Guard and the Reserve. It waves in the hearts of every American long after their time in uniform is through, and in the silent vigil above the row of white headstones here and 'over there.'
Ladies and gentleman, Francis Scott Key’s questions persist to this day: 'Does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?' And thanks to all of you veterans, to the unbroken line of warriors who have answered the call, the answer, generation after generation, continues to be: Yes, now and forever.
Because as every adversary in every age who has ever come up against you has learned, American warriors never bend, never break, and never, ever, ever yield. And that’s why, as I tell every foreign leader I encounter, it’s never, never, ever been a good bet to bet against the United States of America: because we have you.
God bless you all, and may God protect our troops."
OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY DAVID LIENEMANN