Joe Biden has for years been telling a harrowing war story about his 2008 visit to Afghanistan. But the Washington Post reported Thursday that “almost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect.”
Biden, the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, most recently told the story Friday at a campaign event in New Hampshire. According to the Post, Biden recounted that a four-star general asked him to travel to Kunar province to recognize the heroism of a Navy captain. He said some advised him that the trip was too risky, but he brushed them off.
“We can lose a vice president,” he said. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.”
Biden said that the Navy captain’s heroic act had been to rappel down a 60-foot ravine while under fire to retrieve the body of a fallen American and then carry the man out on his back. The general wanted Biden to pin a Silver Star on the captain, but the service member protested.
“He said, ‘Sir, I don’t want the damn thing!’” Biden recalled, growing more emotional as he went. “Do not pin it on me. Sir! Please, Sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!”
The audience at the town hall was silent. Biden declared: “This is the God’s truth. My word as a Biden.”
How the Joe Biden war story is false
To fact-check Biden, the Post’s Matt Viser and Greg Jaffe spoke with more than a dozen U.S. troops, their commanders and the former vice president’s campaign officials. They found his story riddled with falsehoods.
“The upshot: In the space of three minutes, Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony,” the reporters wrote.
Biden has inaccurately told the story several times since 2008, with the details changing over time. His most recent telling was apparently the most inaccurate version yet, jumbling at least three actual events into one false one.
Biden really did visit Kunar province in 2008. But he was a U.S. senator at the time, not yet vice president. Along with two other senators, Biden watched Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez present the Bronze Star not to a Navy captain but to Army Specialist Miles Foltz, who braved heavy fire to save a wounded fellow soldier.
The Pentagon has no record of an Army captain receiving a Silver Star in Iraq during the time period Biden describes.
In another trip to Afghanistan in 2011, Biden pinned a Bronze Star on Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman, who had run into a burning vehicle to save his dying friend. Like the soldier in Biden’s story, Workman did not feel he deserved the award, but he accepted it.
“I never pulled him out because he was melting,” Workman, now a first sergeant, told the Post. “I didn’t want that medal.”
As for the heroic service member who did what Biden described; in a 2014 White House ceremony, President Barack Obama awarded Army Sgt. Kyle White the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor.
Why it matters
As the Post noted, Biden has made supporting the military a signature of his presidential campaign. He ends almost every speech with the line: “May God protect our troops.” At the town hall Friday, he told the crowd that he calls the Pentagon every morning to get an update on American casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At the same time, Biden has used war stories to attack Trump, arguing the president does not understand that patriotism is about sacrifice rather than winning. While neither politician served in the military, Biden’s elder son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015, deployed to Iraq as an Army lawyer in 2008. In 2014, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s younger son, spent one month as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve before testing positive for cocaine use and being discharged.
Meanwhile, Biden, has sought in his campaign to battle the perception that at age 76 he has lost a step mentally. At another stop in New Hampshire Friday, Biden assured supporters: “I want to be clear: I’m not going nuts.”
Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden yesterday on not being sure where he previously spoke: “I wanna be clear, I’m not going nuts.” pic.twitter.com/RTkVYQQcvL
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) August 26, 2019
A day later, Biden, who has long been gaffe prone, told reporters that he loved being back in Vermont during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
“Joe is not playing with a full deck. He made that comment, I said ‘whoa,’ ” Trump said earlier this month after Biden told supporters that “poor kids” are “just as talented as white kids” before correcting himself to say “wealthy kids.”
- Then-Vice President Joe Biden pins the Bronze Star on an Army soldier in Afghanistan in 2011.: Screen grab