Vice President Biden gives emotional speech at Chattanooga Memorial

Vice President Joseph Biden speaks at a memorial for the five military servicemen killed in the July, 16, attacks on two military facilities held Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tenn. Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke along with representatives from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. (Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

CHATTANOOGA (WATE) – If anyone knows loss it is Vice President Joe Biden. In late May his son, Joseph Biden, an Iraq War veteran who served as the attorney general of Delaware, died after battling brain cancer.

That emotion and empathy was very evident Saturday at a memorial for five serviceman killed during a shooting last month. Many were in tears as Vice President Biden stepped down from the podium.

“I’m honored to join my colleagues, but as I told family members, I wish I were not here,” said Biden. “For I have some sense of how hard it is for you to be here.”

Biden went on to thank the families for sharing the memorial with the nation, saying their courage was an inspiration struggling with loss. He said tens of millions of Americans are grieving with families.

“I knew them. They were my son and so many other sons I know: Men of honor, men of faith, men of determination,” said Biden. “Being a sailor, being a Marine wasn’t what they did. Just like all of you, it was who they are.”

Five battle crosses were displayed on stage with pictures of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Randall Smith, and Lance Cpl. Squire K. “Skip” Wells. They were killed on July 15 at the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Chattanooga. Two days after their deaths, Col. Joseph Russo, commanding officer 14th Marine Regiment and Capt. Matt Berta, commanding officer Navy Region Southeast Reserve (NRSE) Component Command (RCC) Jacksonville, began planning the ceremony.

“The need to be here with those affected by this tragedy, who are hurting and in need, and provide a warm and comforting embrace as they begin to heal, is ultimate,” Berta said. “We want to leave a lasting impression on these families – we’re here for them.”

More than 150 Department of navy personnel, along with Chattanooga city and county employees came together to plan the ceremony honoring the Chattanooga fallen five. The brotherhood, duty and honor of the five men who lost their lives were recounted by all of the speakers.

“The day will come when his memory brings a smile to your lips, before it brings a tear to your eye,” Biden said to family of the fallen. Biden went on to say that the five men lost were part of the 9/11 generation, one of the finest generations of warriors the world has ever known.

‘Semper Fidelis’

Commanding Officer Major Michael P. Abrams said the men were not victims, running towards the victims. “In their final moments their gut reaction was to protect their brothers and sisters,” said Abrams. “To our enemies, whoever and wherever you may be, we will not succumb to fear. You will never touch what’s in our hearts and in our minds. This act has only strengthened our resolve and rallied the will of this nation.”

Major Abrams ended his speech, with the United States Marine Corps. motto, “Semper Fidelis,” a Latin phrase that means “always faithful” or “always loyal.” Two small words that mean so much to the men and women that serve.

Lieutenant Commander Timothy White, who was at the complex at the time of the shooting, spoke of hope. He said the city of Chattanooga will never forget the events on July 16, 2015, but he hopes the city will return to calm. “They died as they lived, doing their duty,” said White. “They were warriors. They would want us to do our duty with more tenacity and undaunted courage.

 White said freedom has never come easy, but it is worth fighting for and worth dying for. He said the five servicemen that lost their lives valued that freedom and died doing their duty, something he said he is eternally grateful for their sacrifice. “I thank God for them,” he said.

United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus echoed White’s words, saying “”This pure act of evil could not keep them from their duty, that commitment is the essence of sailors and Marines. It was demonstrated under the worst of circumstances on July 16 and it has not wavered since.” Mabus said the Navy and Marine Corps not only work together, but they will grieve together.

“Together we will assure that they, like those that went before, will be remembered as heroes, because that is what they are,” said Mabus. “Ordinary people, facing extraordinary circumstances. An ordinary Thursday became a day of extraordinary horror, but also extraordinary heroism.”

Mabus talked about law enforcement officers and first responders running into danger to protect others and aid them, even at risk to their own lives. He said the courage did not end with the shooting, but continued as recruiters went back to work the next day and tens of thousands of reservists reported for their weekend drills.

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