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Why I took the viral photo of a person in uniform at Beau Biden’s grave

While Joe Biden gave his inauguration speech on Wednesday afternoon, a lone person in a uniform kneeled at the grave of Biden’s son Beau Biden at St. Joseph on The Brandywine church in Greenville, Delaware.

WILMINGTON, Del. – Delaware is a tiny state. The joke is there are no degrees of separation.

We always ask people where they went to high school because we know that’s where we’ll find our Delaware connection. And we usually do.

President Joe Biden’s son Beau was a few years younger than I was. We didn’t go to the same schools in Delaware, but we knew some of the same people. Our paths crossed every once in a while, especially when he was attorney general. That’s just Delaware. 

Back in 2002, I was assigned to write a feature story on a guy who had decided to become a politician. I had to follow this guy around to many events. While I had covered the late Delaware Sen. Bill Roth’s last campaign, I was struggling with this assignment.

The man’s rival wasn’t too happy at the attention her opponent was receiving and chewed me out at an event. I sat on a bench at Highlands Elementary School in Wilmington, alone, sifting through my notes with a deadline looming. A waiting, anxious new editor wanted a piece “that sang” and I had a sinking feeling: What the heck was I going to write?

Powerful moment at Beau Biden’s grave:As Joe Biden is inaugurated, a uniformed person kneels silently at the grave of his son Beau

I’m sure the despair showed in my face. Then I heard a friendly voice say, “Hey, how are you? Are you OK?”

I looked up and it was Beau standing over me, holding out his hand. He introduced himself (but I already knew who he was), and we shook hands and made small talk.

He wasn’t in office at the time. He was just being kind. It wasn’t a grand gesture, just a small one, but somehow, it made a difference that day. I never forgot that act of kindness.

That’s one reason I stood in line for hours in 2015 with thousands of other Delawareans at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Wilmington to pay respects to the Biden family. It was a public viewing for Beau, who died of cancer.

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The Delaware News Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, was the only media allowed at an after-funeral gathering for Beau’s closest friends. It wasn’t hard to tell how much he was beloved.

On Tuesday, at Joe Biden’s sendoff in Delaware, it struck me that the president-elect was leaving to become the 46th president, not from the Wilmington train station that bears his name, but from the Delaware National Guard Center near New Castle named for Beau, who died at age 46.

Joe had tears in his eyes when he said Beau should have been the one to become president. I lost a very close family member two years ago this month, and I can understand his continued grief.

Long story short, I was thinking of Beau on Wednesday when I was sent out on assignment to see how or even if Delaware was celebrating this historic presidential moment for our state.

As I drove into Greenville, I thought I would drive by Beau’s grave and say a short prayer at a Catholic church where I have attended Mass not far from my house. 

I saw a lone person in a blue uniform kneeling at Beau’s grave. No one else was around on this cold, windy afternoon except for a few people doing outside work at the cemetery. In my car, I had the radio tuned to CNN. Joe Biden was being sworn in as president and was about to begin his address.

The person in the uniform bowed their head and clasped their hands. The image brought tears to my eyes.

I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt this poignant, solemn moment. I took some photos from a distance and pulled my car over to a nearby roadway. I listened to the end of Biden’s speech and drove back to see if the person was still there. The person was. And the person was still kneeling, still had their head bowed.

The journalist in me wanted to go back and find out the person’s identity and ask why they were there. The person who once received a kind gesture from Beau when I needed it most knew it was a time to be respectful, and I drove away.

Some things in life you just let be.

Follow Patricia Talorico on Twitter @pattytalorico

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