In an emotional speech to the families of fallen troops on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden assured grieving family members that he felt the pain of their losses, recounting how he experienced suicidal thoughts following the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter in 1972.
It was the first time in my career, in my life, I realized someone could go out -- and I probably shouldn't say this with the press here, but no, but it's more important, you're more important. For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide, Biden said while speaking at the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in Arlington, Va. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.
Biden gave an account of the painful incident, which took place only weeks after he was elected as a first-term U.S. senator at the age of 29.
I was down in Washington hiring my staff and I got a phone call, saying that my family had been in an accident, he said. And just like you guys know by the tone of the phone call, you just knew. You knew when they walked up the path. You knew when the call came. You knew. You just felt it in your bones: Something bad happened. And I knew -- I don't know how I knew, but the caller said my wife is dead. My daughter is dead. And I wasn't sure how my sons were going to make it.
Biden said his first wife, Nelia Hunter, was Christmas shopping with their one-year old daughter and two sons when the family's station wagon was hit by a tractor-trailer. The collision almost instantly killed his wife and daughter and critically injured his two sons, who both eventually made full recoveries.
Biden said the tragedy left him angry with God and made it almost impossible to focus on work. However, he concluded his remarks with a piece of advice for the spouses and families of fallen troops: to keep in mind what their late loved ones would have wanted, and to remember those who are living who still need them.
Folks, it can and will get better, Biden said. There will come a day -- I promise you, and your parents as well -- when the thought of your son or daughter, or your husband or wife, bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen.
Biden's speech was part of the White House's efforts to commemorate Memorial Day on Monday, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.