Did Joe Biden serve in the US military?

Commander-in-chief visits American troops in Poland and praises bravery and courage of Ukrainian resistance fighters in face of Russian aggression

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 25 March 2022 18:21 GMT
Biden eats pizza with US soldiers in Poland

US president Joe Biden sat down to lunch with American troops stationed in Poland during his trip to Europe on Friday, taking time out from discussing the war in Ukraine with fellow Nato leaders to eat pizza with members of the 82nd Airborne Division at the G2 Arena in Jasionka near Rzeszow.

The Democrat was moved during the meal to recall an anecdote about his late son Beau Biden, the former Delaware attorney general who passed away in 2015 and who served in the Iraq War, attaining the rank of major.

Mr Biden recalled visiting his son in Baghdad in July 2009 while he was serving as Barack Obama’s vice president, an occasion when he struggled to locate Beau among the men in their barracks.

“I walked in and I was looking for my son, and I’m going around wondering, ‘Where the hell is my son?’” Mr Biden told the soldiers, explaining that when he finally found him, his son was wearing a nametag with a different surname.

“I said, ‘What happened?’ And he said, ‘Dad, with the name Biden everybody thinks something’s going on, so I’m Hunter’ – his mother’s maiden name.”

The president also took the opportunity to praise the bravery of the men and women of Ukraine for their courageous resistance to the Russian invasion.

“They have a lot of back bone. They have a lot of guts. And I’m sure you’re observing it. And I don’t mean just the military, which we’ve been training since back when Russia moved in and in southeast Ukraine. But also the average citizen. Look at how they’re stepping up. Look at how they’re stepping up.

He added that he had hoped to cross the border into Ukraine but had been warned it was too dangerous to attempt.

Unlike his son, Mr Biden never served in the US military, having received five student draft deferments and a conditional medical deferment while studying at the University of Delaware and Syracuse University in the 1960s, the latter following a physical exam in April 1968 that led to him being classified as I-Y, which meant he could only be drafted in the case of a national emergency.

When he was chosen as Mr Obama’s running-mate in 2008, a spokesperson explained that asthma had been the reason given for the exemption at the time.

That meant that he was prevented from joining the Vietnam War, a conflict of which he was critical when he ran for the Senate in 1972, speaking out against Republican president Richard Nixon’s leadership.

Mr Biden is far from the only US president not to have completed military service: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Mr Obama or Donald Trump did not serve either.

Most notably, Mr Trump claimed that bone spurs were the reason behind his multiple deferments from Vietnam but refused to produce any medical records to prove the claim and his estranged lawyer Michael Cohen later alleged that the luxury property tycoon had once told him: “You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”

Long before he entered the White House, Mr Trump also bragged during an interview with radio shock jock Howard Stern that not catching a sexually-transmitted disease during his playboy days in 1980s New York City was “my personal Vietnam”.

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