Holding tightly to his widowed daughter-in-law and grieving young grandchildren, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday escorted the flag-draped casket of his eldest son, Beau, to a place of honor inside the Delaware Legislative Hall and tearfully accepted the condolences of hundreds of well-wishers.
“We find ourselves walking a long trail of tears and pray it will lead to a place of peace and comfort,” said Col. Ed Brandt, chaplain of the National Guard, in which Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer on May 30, had served for 12 years, including a deployment in the Iraq war.
At the brief service that preceded the public viewing, Beau was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross, Delaware’s highest honor, for his “heroism, meritorious service and outstanding achievement.”
Beau, just 46 when he died, was the state’s attorney general for eight years and was gearing up to run for governor in 2016. He “lived a life that is a model for us all,” said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
Tears filled the vice president’s eyes as Markell spoke of the bond between Biden and the eldest of his three children. “Never has a son’s love been so genuine and so deep,” Markell said.
Addressing Beau’s children, the governor said, “Natalie and Hunter should know that even when you weren’t around, your dad beamed with pride and love for you.”
Entering the Delaware Senate chamber, where the lawmakers’ desks had been removed for Beau’s casket and all those filing past to pay respects, the vice president held tightly to Beau’s wife, Hallie, frequently kissing the top of her head as she looked forward. His other hand gripped the small hand of Beau’s 9-year-old son, Hunter.
Beau’s daughter, Natalie, 11, clung with both arms to her grandmother, Dr. Jill Biden.
“To the Biden family, we cannot begin to understand the depth of your loss,” said Markell, as Biden looked to the ceiling. “Know that we grieve with you.”
At the close of the emotional day, the Bidens returned to Washington to attend Hunter Biden’s daughter Maisy’s graduation from middle school. The first family joined the Bidens for the ceremony at Sidwell Friends School where President Obama’s daughter Sasha is also graduating.
Thursday’s four-hour viewing opened three days of services for Beau. The family will gather again on Friday in Wilmington, Delaware, for calling hours at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, where Saturday’s funeral Mass will also be celebrated.
President Obama will deliver the eulogy, and the White House has set up an online condolence book, encouraging members of the public to “please offer your thoughts, prayers, and a message that will be shared with the Biden family as they grieve the loss and honor the memory of a most cherished man.”