President Obama on Saturday eulogized the son of his vice president, telling a packed, somber memorial service in a Delaware Catholic church that Beau Biden was an "original. A good man. A man of character. A man who loved deeply, and was loved in return."
Joseph Robinette "Beau" Biden III, Delaware state attorney general, Army veteran in Iraq and the son of Vice President Joe Biden, was 46 and died from brain cancer on May 30. The ceremony was officiated by top church prelates, and marked the first time since the Kennedy administration that a president or a vice president has had to bury a child while in office.
The capacity of 1,000 mourners at St. Anthony of Padua church in Wilmington was reached two hours before the service began; faces were filled with tears, and the eulogies were extremely emotional and personal. Beau Biden's brother, Hunter Biden, described spending his last moments with his brother in the hospital. "I held his hand as he took his last breath," he said. "His hand will never leave mine."
Obama, who has given his share of ceremonial eulogies in his six years in the presidency, struggled at times to get through his words, his vice president and the Biden family in the front row, and the casket at the head of the center aisle.
To the Biden family, the president said, "We are here to grieve with you, but more importantly, we are here because we love you."
After Beau's mother and sister died in an accident, Obama said, "That little boy made a very grown-up decision: He would live a life of meaning. He would live for others. He would ask God for broader shoulders."
"From his dad he learned how to get back up after life knocked him down."
"He learned how to make everybody else feel like we matter—because his dad taught him that everybody matters."
Beau Biden was "an upgrade" of the vice president, Obama said. "Joe 2.0." When he was caught with a friend speeding and the police officer wanted to give him a warning because he admired his father's work, Obama said, "Beau made him write that ticket. Beau didn't trade on his name."
The president also praised Beau Biden in his struggle with cancer. "The cruelty he endured in his life didn't make him hard, it made him compassionate. It made him empathetic."
"That," the president said, "is who built this country. That's who built it, families like Beau's. He did in 46 years what most of us couldn't do in 146. He left nothing in the tank."
Gen. Raymond Odierno, Beau Biden's top commander in Iraq, spoke of his soldier's "natural charisma" that put many at ease. "Beau possessed the traits I have witnessed in only the greatest leaders," the general said. "Beau was a soldier and a dear friend and also someone I greatly admired."
The vice president did not speak. But he greeted nearly all at the church, and hugged the president.
Just before the door to the hearse opened for the start of the service, the vice president briefly looked up to the sky, and then forward again, his face unmoving. He put his arm around Beau's wife, Hallie Biden, kissed her on the head and then bowed his head. He rubbed a grandson's head gently.
Police saluted as the flag-covered casket was lifted out. As it began to enter the church, the vice president briefly placed his hand over his heart.
The first chords of "Bring Him Home," from "Les Miserables" began to play, and the vice president crossed himself as he prepared to enter. He then followed his family inside. The service ended with a trumpet rendition of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the ringing of church bells.
The interment was private.