Remarks on Presenting the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor
Thank you, General. Thank you very much. And welcome to the White House, everyone. The Attorney General Garland's introduction is incredibly worthwhile. We're here to recognize your leadership and all you've done.
You know, we're also joined by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco—is here—and the Drug Enforcement Agency, Anne Milgram. Where's Anne? Anne is in the back.
And I would like to thank Members of Congress here today: Senator Chris Murphy—Chris. And I also want Jim—Jimmy Himes—Jim Himes is here with us today. And Congressman Adriano Esplanat. And—Espaillat, excuse me. You can call me "Bidden." [Laughter] We've known each other so long, and I still stumbled. I apologize.
It's good to see you all. And you know, they represent members of the districts that many of you are from. And of course, we're honored to be joined by law enforcement and firefighter leaders from all across the country.
We can never fully thank you for your service or for your sacrifice. But today is an important day for the Nation to give thanks for all that you do for everybody, for all of us.
Because of COVID-19, we couldn't have this special ceremony for the past 2 years. But I'm honored that we finally can today honor 15—15—public safety officers from eight different departments with the Medal of Valor, the highest award a President can bestow on a public safety officer.
This designation reads, and I quote: "For action above and beyond the call of duty; and exhibiting exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, or unusual swiftness [in]* action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect human life." End of quote. That's valor. That's valor.
To the honorees: I don't know all of you personally, but I do know you. Growing up, you're the ones who, when we were outnumbered three to one, you jumped in. No, you did. I grew up in a neighborhood where you either became a cop, a firefighter, or a priest. I wasn't qualified for any of them, so here I am. [Laughter]
But you know, and you jumped in to help the one. Not a joke. Think about—and your parents can attest to it. You were the ones to run into help when everyone else ran away, even before you became involved in firefighting or law enforcement.
As adults, you're the first ones to volunteer to coach a Little League team or shovel your neighbor or elderly neighbor's driveway or walkway when it snows. You're the heart and soul and the very spine—the very spine—of this country and your communities.
Each one of you, from small-town departments to big cities, you're cut from the same cloth. You possess a selflessness that's really hard to explain, a rare commitment to your neighbors and your fellow Americans, an unusual bravery that inspires everyone. And you've been singled out because of your extraordinary heroism.
In a few moments, a full citation of your valor will be read. But this is who you are. You plunged into icy lake waters to—and dove into choppy oceans to save people who were drowning. You faced a hail of gunfire to save your colleagues. You climbed burning buildings to save a baby and more than a hundred senior citizens. You drew fire to yourself—to yourself—to save a hostage.
And you did all this without concern for your own safety, thinking only of somebody else—the other. You know, you've gone above and beyond. I think it's instinctive. Because this job isn't just what you do, it's who you all are. It's really who you are.
But we also know you didn't do this alone. To the parents who are here today, you get—you set a standard for remarkable public safety officers. They didn't just get this by osmosis; they got it through all of you. Something about the example you set made them want to do what they do.
I want to thank you moms and dads here for teaching your children the values that we honor today, because what we're honoring is their basic values.
And I want to thank the spouses and the children of the honorees. It takes a special person to marry or a child—to be the child of a firefighter or a law enforcement officer. How many times have you sat in front of the steps of your house when the city lights have gone out, and you turn to your husband or your wife, holding your kids and say: "We'll be fine. We'll be fine. Go do your job. Go do your job"?
You know, when your loved one puts on that shield and walks out the door each day, every family member dreads the possibility of receiving that phone call, knowing the uncertainty that faces you as they walk out the door. So today, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you, the spouses, the children of the public safety officers. And I really mean it.
And there are two families in particular I want to acknowledge. Two of our honorees, Officer Jason Shuping and Lieutenant Jared Lloyd, are not with us today because they gave their lives in the full service to their communities and this Nation. To their families, unless you would rather not, I'd like you to stand so everybody can see you.
On behalf of the American people, my wife Jill and I want to extend our love. We know from personal, but different experience, that these events are really bittersweet. It brings everything back as if you just got the news. You're proud, but it's hard.
Just yesterday I stood at the United States Capitol for the National Police [Peace]* Officers Memorial Service to pay tribute to hundreds of fallen heroes. And I was joined by the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Patrick Yoes, who is here today. I don't know where Patrick is, but I know he's here today. There you go, Patrick. Thank you for yesterday, and thank you for today.
We pay tribute to all the law enforcement officers and their families who understand what it takes, what's at risk to save and protect all of us. And that includes paying tribute to the Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Salter—Slater [Salter],* excuse me—who gave his life trying to save others when a gunman shot and killed 10 innocent people in a grocery store in Buffalo on Saturday. He actually was able to shoot the assailant twice, but he had on a bulletproof vest. And he lost his life in the process.
No one understands more than all of you here today the pain and anguish those families in Buffalo feel. But if they were pulled into a—as if—when it happens, at least in my experience, you feel like you're pulled into a black hole inside your chest and everything—everything you can't—and it's hard.
But as you know, you're part of a special community—a special community—because the firefighters and police officers will always be there for you. I know it's a small consolation, but they'll always be there for you and your family and your children and your grandchildren and the whole family.
To talk about law enforcement being a family, about firefighters being a family, it's real, just like being a military family. It's unbreakable. There is a headstone in a cemetery in Ireland that reads: "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory that no one can steal." To the families of the fallen, no one can ever steal the memory of your loved one.
And I hope the day will come when the memory of your lost dad, son, husband brings a smile to your lips before it brings the tear to your eye. I promise you, it will come, but you know, my prayer is, it comes sooner than later.
You know, I want to say a special thanks to the—to you all for being here because I know it's hard and—but understand all the people in this room and all the people listening, they understand the sacrifices that not only that—that your spouse made, your son made, but you make every day. And all the families that are here—like I said, when that alarm goes off, when the bell sounds, you all wish them well, but you know and you worry. Thank you for all you do.
I'd like to conclude with this. There is an incredible group of 15 heroes. I know you don't do this work for recognition, but you reflect the best part of who we are as Americans. These medals reflect the profound gratitude of our Nation. It's the highest medal that can be honored.
So God bless you all. May God protect our firefighters and law enforcement officers and their families everywhere.
And it's now my honor now to award these medals and ask the Military Aides to read the citations. Thank you.
[At this point, Lt. Col. Raymond Roe, USAF, Air Force Aide to the President, read the citations, and the President presented the medals, assisted by Lt. Col. William Kerrigan, USMC, Marine Corps Aide to the President.]
A vacation he'll never forget. [Laughter]
I would like to give one last round of applause to the recipients of the Medal of Valor. Thank you all for your service and sacrifice.
And may God bless you, keep you safe. And may God protect all firefighters and all police officers. Like I said, you're the character of the country, and you're the best of all of them. Thank you all for being here. Appreciate it.
[The President paused briefly to face the audience before leaving the stage.]
Thanks, everybody. I really mean it.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:52 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Anne Milgram, Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration; retired Buffalo, NY, police officer Aaron Salter, Jr., who was killed in the shooting at a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in Buffalo, NY, on May 14; and Payton S. Gendron, suspected gunman in the shooting.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Presenting the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355938