Biden appeared to pray over the wreath for a few moments before it was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), more than 1 million American service members have died in the history of the United States, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The deadliest conflicts were the Civil War and World War II, which killed more than 400,000 Americans each.
The United States’ most recent war, the Global War on Terror, has killed more than 6,900 American service members, according to the CRS. Biden said on Monday that the exact total is now 7,036 who each “leave behind an entire community and family.”
Later in the speech, Biden warned that “democracy itself is in peril here at home and around the world.”
“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 said. “Between ‘me first’ and ‘we the people.’ Between greed and generosity. Cruelty and kindness. Captivity and freedom.”
“These Americans weren’t fighting for dictators. They were fighting for democracy. They weren’t fighting to exclude and enslave. They were fighting to build and broaden and liberate,” Biden added. “They weren’t fighting for self. They were fighting for the soul of the nation. For liberty and simple fair play.”
The president continued to say that “What we do now … how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure.” As during the campaign, Biden said that the U.S. is in the midst of a “struggle for the soul of America itself.”
President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley arrive to take part in a wreath-laying in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in Arlington, Va., on May 31, 2021.
“Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong. When people have the right to vote, freely and fairly and conveniently,” Biden said. “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.”
Biden also on Monday referenced the death of his son Beau Biden, a veteran, as he sympathized with the loved ones of those who have died while fighting on behalf of the country. Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.
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“To those who mourn a loved one today, Jill and I have some idea how you’re feeling. Our losses are not the same. But that black hole that you feel in your chest as it’s going to suck you into it, we get,” Biden said, referring to first lady Jill Biden. “Our son Beau’s service in the Delaware National Guard unit, the year he spent deployed in Iraq, was one of the things that he was most proud of in life.”
“We will never forget what you gave to our country,” Biden said to families of the fallen. “We will never fail to honor your sacrifice.”
“Every day is Memorial Day for the families of our fallen,” Milley also said Monday.