President Barack Obama eulogized Beau Biden Saturday as a good man of character, hailing the compassion and public service of his family in a moving funeral oration about the son of grief-stricken Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama said that the former Delaware Attorney General and Iraq War veteran who died a week ago from brain cancer was a fine man full of integrity who had refused to trade on his family name. He did his duty to his country and “did not have a mean bone in his body,” Obama told more than a thousand mourners at a Roman Catholic funeral Mass in Wilmington, Delaware.
“Beau Biden brought to his work a mighty heart, he brought to his family a mighty heart,” Obama said in his eulogy, during which he appeared on the verge of being emotionally overcome several times as he praised Beau Biden as a model public official, father and son.
He said Beau Biden and the Biden family, with their culture of service and compassion, had endured tragedy in the past but not been defeated by it. They were the kind of people, Obama said, who, since the nation’s founding, had ensured that merit, not birth or wealth, were most important.
“Families like the Bidens have made it so. People like Beau have made it so. He did in 46 years what most of us could not do in 146,” Obama said. “He left nothing in the tank. He was a man who led a life where the means were as important as the ends.”
“Beau Biden was an original. He was a good man, a man of character, a man who loved deeply and was loved in return,” Obama added.
When he had concluded his eulogy, Obama stepped down from the pulpit of the St. Anthony of Padua Church, and folded Biden in his arms, placing a kiss on his vice president’s cheek.
The President’s comments, while memorializing Beau Biden, were also an extraordinary show of love and respect for his vice president from a man who is more known for keeping his emotions contained than revealing them in public.
“Joe, you are my brother, and I am grateful every day you have got such a big heart, and a big soul, and those broad shoulders. I could not admire you more,” Obama said, looking directly at the vice president.
Obama said that Beau Biden’s quality as a man was evidenced by his refusal to run for the Senate when the path was open for him to follow in his father’s footsteps, because he had unfinished work in Delaware, where he made a name for himself by fighting to protect children who were victims of abuse. He was, Obama said, “someone who cared, someone who charmed you and disarmed you and put you at ease.”
Earlier, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit to Beau Biden, hailing him as a member of a brotherhood of soldiers who had “deep moral and ethical roots.”
Odierno said he got to know Biden when he served in Iraq and said he had possessed a “natural charisma that few people possess,” adding that he fully expected him to serve as president of the United States one day.
“People willingly wanted to follow him, trusted his judgment and believed in him. Frankly, he was selfless to a fault,” Odierno told mourners.
Joe Biden did not speak at the funeral, but looked on as his daughter Ashley and son Hunter eulogized their brother and paid tribute to his own role in leading the family. Ashley remembered how she had accompanied Beau Biden to chemotherapy treatments and Hunter told how he had held his brother’s hand as he took his last breaths, whispering, “I love you” over and over.
Beau Biden’s funeral cortege had arrived at the church heralded by a pipe band. The vice president, wearing dark glasses, and the rest of his family, all looking bereft, formed up behind the hearse. Biden occasionally whispered in the ear of Beau’s widow, Hallie, and comforted his son’s two children, Natalie and Hunter.
The casket, covered in an American flag, was carried gently into the church with full military honors, reflecting Beau’s service as a captain in the Army National Guard in Iraq.
Saturday morning, Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, all dressed in black, left the White House, where the American flag stood at half-staff to honor Beau Biden.
The first person in line for the service arrived at 4:30 a.m., and by breakfast time, the line of mourners stretched around the block at the church.
Joe Biden’s role as a grieving father is not without irony in itself. The vice president has become one of the most sought after eulogists in Washington as his painful personal history – he lost his first wife and an infant daughter in a car crash in 1972 – has made him especially compassionate to the tragedies of others.
Musicians performing at the event included Coldplay vocalist Chris Martin, who had heard through a family friend that Beau Biden liked his music and volunteered to attend the ceremony, a White House official said.
Other high profile mourners included Bill and Hillary Clinton, and a long list of high profile Washington figures, reflecting Joe Biden’s near half century in politics, including Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Sens. Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy and Joe Manchin were there, along with Delaware Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper and other senior members of the House and Obama’s cabinet, the White House said.
Saturday’s funeral followed two days of mourning and memorial events for Beau Biden, which has showcased the deep emotional anguish the vice president and his family are enduring following his death a week ago.
Some people waited five hours just to see the casket on Friday.
CNN’s Lindy Royce and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.