Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden at The Dedication Ceremony of The Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III Highway
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. You cannot only call me Joe, you can call me anytime you need me.
And, Mr. President, I was thinking about it on the way out here -- it was 2001 when I came to Bondsteel with my son and I met you in Pristina that year. And both you and the Prime Minister have made every American who has had faith in Kosovo proud. Your joint commitment to establish a true, genuine democracy, where every single person is entitled to be treated with dignity, shows through. And it has taken great courage to get where you've gotten so far and there's further to go, but I know you will go there.
And, President Jahjaga, I want to thank you. Gentlemen, I like you a lot, but she's a hell of a lot better-looking than you -- (laughter) -- and she likes me a lot and I like her a lot, too. Thank you for coming into my office six or eight months ago, before the last election, and telling me what the plans were. And I appreciate it a great deal.
And, Mr. Mayor, -- both the mayors -- Beau would be so proud -- is so proud that this road connects two great cities.
And Beau, when he came here, fell in love with this country, like I have. Look at this magnificent country. (Applause.) No, I mean it. I remember going home, and Jill will remember, my talking about how magnificent and beautiful it was and what it meant. And all she wanted to know was, is Beau safe?
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, citizens of the Republic of Kosovo, you've been sitting a long time in the hot sun here. If I were smart, which I'm not, I'd say thank you and sit down and let you all go. But on behalf of the Biden family -- Beau's mom, Jill, and Beau's sister -- my sister, Beau's second mother, Aunt Val, who is here with me, and Beau's brother, the love of my life, Hunter Biden, who has had Beau's back every single moment Beau was alive. And to his beautiful, brave, and I mean this sincerely, courageous wife, Hallie, and to my two grandchildren, Hunter and Natalie. You said it right, Mr. Prime Minister, this is sort of a bittersweet moment. We are extremely, extremely, extremely grateful and we're humbled beyond words.
But the fact of the matter is, I visited this region many, many years ago -- I was a young United States senator and my first visit was back in the mid-'70s. And my first place I came after being elected Vice President was I came back as Vice President of the United States to Kosovo because I so, so deeply believe in the prospects and the promise of the people of Kosovo and this country for the first time, maybe the first time ever, to be able to establish the kind of country that the people deserve.
But one of the most meaningful visits was in 2001. It was January, it was winter, and I was trying to explain to my staff -- I said I was -- I remember driving out here from Pristina, Bondsteel was just being built. It was a rainy, rainy January cold day in 2001. And we were going up a hill, and one of my staff members said there's no hills out there, and I said, oh yes there are. They'd only landed on the tarmac and took off -- they didn't see it.
And we're going up, and I'm not sure exactly which hill, but it looked like it was over there, and it was muddy and it was a rainy, rainy day. And I remember going up the mountain and the tires were spinning in the truck we were in. And I had a Kosovar driver, Mr. President, and we got to two-thirds of the way to the top of the hill and there was a guard post with a white and red stanchion that came down across to block our way. And as we talked to be checked, our Kosovar driver who had been driving me for two days, who'd become a friend, looked out the window like this, he said, look, look, America. And he was pointing to the cranes and the bulldozers and all that was going on.
And, Mr. Prime Minister, I pointed to the guard shack, and I said, no, no, there's America. And when I looked over, there was a young, Caucasian -- white sergeant. Standing next to that young sergeant was a black man -- excuse me, a Hispanic man who was a master sergeant. Standing next to him -- this is the truth -- was a light bird colonel, a woman, and standing next to her was a full bird colonel, African American. And I said, that's America. That's America. (Applause.)
And until every region of the world understands that we're one people -- and we're still working on it, by the way, in America. We talked about we're working on a more perfect union -- we're not there yet. We're still working on it. But that's my memory. And Beau was with me at the time in the backseat of that automobile, and he threw himself into his work here. He didn't tell his mother or I as a member of the federal Justice Department in Washington that he had volunteered to be the one federal representative here in Pristina helping put together the training programs for local judges and prosecutors, and laying the groundwork for what would become Kosovo's Judicial Institute, which I'm told still operates to this very day.
At that time, when the wounds of war were fresh and the landscape was still scarred, still scarred with abandoned vehicles and earth that had been blown up, at that time, Kosovo's justice system had been hollowed out by decades of totalitarian rule. And Beau played a small part, but he played a part, in making sure that the war crimes were prosecuted and, most importantly, from his perspective, prosecuted based on hard evidence, not on emotion -- on hard evidence, not emotion. He helped introduce and develop for the first time in Kosovo's legal system, a system built on what we call the adversarial model, where the role of the prosecutor is not just to prosecute but to do justice -- to do justice. And the accused is entitled to a defense, no matter how reprehensible the accused may be.
I have always been proud of him, but I was never more proud of him than when I was here with him at Bondsteel. He and his brother are cut from the same cloth -- men of courage. My mother had an expression that applies to my son, Hunter, and his brother, Beau. She said, remember, Joe, you're defined by your courage and you're redeemed by your loyalty. You're defined by your courage and redeemed by your loyalty. I think that's why we both have come to love this country so much. He not only threw himself into his work -- (applause) -- but he really did come to love the people, the cultures, the history of this incredible country.
Since then, I've thought a lot about that trip 15 years ago. Mr. President, I said that's when we first met. You weren't President, I wasn't Vice President, but we knew we'd be working together a long time later, didn't we? For real.
I also had the honor of meeting Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, a fine man, a gentle man, a brilliant man, a national hero, who we lost to cancer. (Applause.) And he was a national hero.
I remember Beau and I flying to western Kosovo to meet with Father Janjic at the magnificent 14th-century Orthodox Monastery in Decani.
But maybe, as I said, what I remember most was our trip up this hill to what's become an enduring monument to KFOR and America's commitment to the freedom and independence of Kosovo. It was a beautiful day, and we got to meet an awful lot of you guys in uniform. And I can't tell you that after this was all over and Beau went back after being a prosecutor, gentlemen, we hold you responsible, your predecessors -- because one day, after he was home about three months, I got a phone call, Mr. President, from my son. I was commuting down to Washington, D.C. for business. And he said, Dad, where will you be Friday at noon?
And whenever Hunter or Beau says that to me I know they want me to be somewhere Friday at noon. And I said, where do you want me? And he gave me an address to show up, and I said, what am I doing there, honey? He said, you're going to pin my bars on me to become a lieutenant in the United States Army.
He later told us all why he wanted to do that. It was because of the example of all of you guys here and women here at Bondsteel, because he ended up coming out here often. Coming out here often. He saw what was to be done at Bondsteel and he wanted to be part of it.
You know, I look how far this great country has come in 15 years -- a free and independent nation recognized by the community of nations; sustained by free elections and a developing economy; on the path to European integration. And as the world watched in Rio, the flag with six stars and a golden Kosovo was raised for the first time in history at the Olympics Games. (Applause.) And congratulations to all of those -- and also -- (applause) -- Majlinda. Majlinda, where are you? Are you out here? I was told you were going to be here. I'm not sure she is here. But if Majlinda is here -- she made me a hero. As we get off the plane, the President had her with me last night wearing her gold medal. Now my grandchildren know I'm important because I got to introduce her and let them actually feel the heft of that gold medal. Your nation is so proud of you and we're all proud of you.
You should all be proud of all of the progress you've made so far. But its continuance depends upon a country truly committed to justice and equality. And the talk you just gave, Mr. President, is clear proof that you're committed to every aspect of that. The truth of the matter is that you are, I've said and I'll say it again, you are, in fact, you, Kosovo, when you succeed fully, it will benefit the entire region. It's not just Kosovo that will benefit -- the entire region.
Kosovo is a young country, but not too young to know what its citizens need and what its citizens deserve. That the basic values of integrity, service, merit, not privilege, are required both of the governed and those who govern. Put another way, in the words of my son at the time, he said, and I quote, “The rule of law is a maxim of equality -- everyone subject to the same laws at the same and consequences for breaking those laws. This maxim dictates that -- without exception -- no one is above the law, no one is below it. It doesn’t just apply to people. It applies to businesses, institutions, elected officials, and the judiciary.”
That's exactly what you're working toward, gentlemen, and it matters. It matters. And when, in fact, you fully accomplish it, as I said, you will not only revolutionize what's happening here in Kosovo, but in the entire Balkans.
True democracy is ongoing. It requires constant work. Every citizen has a duty to vote, to be engaged, to look out for one another. And while we don't know how much time we have on Earth, we do know we have an obligation to make every second of it matter, to make every second count, to leave it better than we found it for our children.
And as a family, that's why we decided that the best way forward is to give meaning to the things Beau lived for. I did a major television program back in Washington -- back in the United States, watched by millions of people. And the host was very empathetic toward my son and we talked about all that we lost. And I came home and my son, Hunter, looked at me and he said, Dad, from this point on, we've got to focus on what we gained. We've got to focus on what Beau was about and devote our lives to making fulfilled what he fought so hard for.
That's how Hunter and I -- that's how my family views this day. That's how we view what we're about -- to know that five, 10, 20, 60 years from now, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, my great-great-grandchildren because I assure you, every Biden born will make the trip. Every Biden born will make the trip to see that monument to their father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather. (Applause.)
And the people of Kosovo I've gotten to know over the last 40 years, I've seen you. And like Beau, I believe in you. I believe -- I believe not only that you can, that you will build an enduring, free, democratic and prosperous Kosovo -- a country that meets the hopes and dreams of the Kosovar people so long denied -- so long in abeyance, but once fully established, will last for centuries and we'll all be better for it.
We love you. Thank you for this great honor. And I say to the American troops, I'm proud of you. The finest fighting force in the history of the world, and we're proud of what you're doing here. (Applause.)
God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Thank you.