WILMINGTON, Delaware — President Barack Obama is leading hundreds of mourners paying solemn tribute to Beau Biden, a beloved son of Delaware and the eldest child of grief-stricken Vice President Joe Biden, who died last week of brain cancer at only 46.
Obama, who will deliver a eulogy, arrived with his family to support Biden as he copes with the latest tragedy to strike his family, at a Roman Catholic funeral mass at St Anthony of Padua Church, in the “Little Italy” section of Wilmington, where the Biden family has frequently worshiped.
Beau Biden’s funeral cortege 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 removed and carried gently into the church with full military honors, reflecting Beau’s service as a captain in the Army National Guard in Iraq.
Earlier, 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 of the St. Anthony of Padua Church, in the “Little Italy” section of Wilmington, where the Bidens have frequently worshipped.
Obama’s eulogy will be both a show of respect for Beau Biden, the former Delaware attorney general, with whom he had a personal relationship and a sign of the deep bond that has grown up between the president and his deputy.
“Over the last seven or eight years, the Obama family has grown very close to the Biden family and the President did have a personal relationship with Beau Biden,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. Earnest said the President felt the death in a “very personal way,” but was also “looking forward to spending some time tomorrow celebrating Beau’s life.”
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 include 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.
Senators Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy and Joe Manchin were there, along with Delaware Democratic Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper and other senior members of the House and Obama’s cabinet, the White House said.
Saturday’s funeral follows 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 get into see the casket on Friday.
According to people inside the room, the vice president shook everyone’s hand as they moved past the casket. One woman said the vice president apologized that the wait was so long but thanked them for coming.
“The Biden family is an icon here in Delaware,” said Jack Morton, who once worked for them. “We are here to pay our respects, not just to a great person, but to a great family.”
Faith Green, who worked for Beau Biden as well as one of his father’s earlier political campaigns, paid tribute to his character.
“Anybody that wanted to talk to Beau, he took the time to talk to you and listen to you,” said Green as she waited outside the church Friday to pay her respects to the casket.
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