Vice President Kamala Harris stood in for President Biden on Friday during a Veterans Day memorial at Arlington National Cemetery as Biden traveled to Egypt and Cambodia for international summits.
US presidents traditionally visit the northern Virginia cemetery unless they are traveling.
The vice president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Biden’s stead and delivered a traditional speech praising veterans.
“To be a veteran is to have truly known the true cost of freedom, and to have borne it for all of us. That is a debt that must always be remembered,” Harris said.
Biden, speaking earlier in the day at the anti-global warming COP27 summit on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, mentioned his late son Beau, who died in 2015 of brain cancer, while acknowledging Veterans Day.
“This day is a day of commemoration at home in the United States,” Biden said. “It’s Veterans Day. America’s veterans and their families, survivors, and caregivers are the very spine and soul of the United States.”
Biden added, “And on this special day — on every day — I honor all those of sacrifice to our nation like my son.”
The president proceeded to specifically praise Vietnam War veteran John Kerry, his anti-global warming envoy.
“I want to thank one proud American veteran — a lifelong public servant and dear friend and literally the most decorated men to fight, special envoy for climate John Kerry,” Biden said to applause from the international summit attendees.
Kerry reportedly is preparing to leave his position to earn more money in the private sector and to avoid GOP grilling on the apparent hypocrisy of his family owning a private jet, Axios reported last month.
It’s unclear if Biden will further mark Veterans Day when he arrives in Cambodia later Friday to attend an ASEAN conference. US troops died in the Southeast Asian country during the Vietnam War.
Biden, 79, avoided military service during the Vietnam War, as did his predecessor and possible 2024 competitor Donald Trump, 76. Roughly 2.7 million Americans were sent to South Vietnam to fight off an ultimately victorious Communist onslaught.
Biden received five student draft deferments during his four years at the University of Delaware and the subsequent three years at Syracuse University College of Law. After Biden graduated from law school in 1968, the college football player reportedly was deemed unfit for military service due to asthma. Trump similarly was excused from military service on medical grounds for bone spurs in his heels.
Trump appeared at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day twice during his presidency. He missed the 2017 ceremony while he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. Vice President Mike Pence spoke on his behalf. Trump missed the 2018 commemoration when he attended events in France marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.