Biden suggests his uncle was eaten by cannibals after being shot down during WWII

President used a family anecdote in an attempt to draw a contrast with reports that Donald Trump, when he was president, had called fallen service members ‘suckers’ and ‘losers’

Mike Bedigan
Los Angeles
Thursday 18 April 2024 17:01 BST
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Biden suggests his uncle was eaten by cannibals after being shot down during WWII
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Joe Biden has made the surprising suggestion that his uncle may have been eaten by cannibals after being shot down during World War II.

While speaking to reporters during a visit to Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the president referenced his uncle 2nd Lt Ambrose J Finnegan Jr, who he said had flown reconnaissance flights over New Guinea during the war.

Mr Biden used the anecdote in an attempt to draw a contrast with reports that Donald Trump, while president, had called fallen service members “suckers” and “losers.” However he seemed to get several details of his family history wrong.

“Ambrose Finnegan, we called him Uncle Bosie, he was shot down, he was in the air corps before there was an air force. He flew single engine planes in reconnaissance flights over New Guinea, he volunteered because someone couldn’t make it,” he said, speaking following a visit to a war memorial in his hometown of Scranton.

Joe Biden visited a war memorial during a visit to Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday
Joe Biden visited a war memorial during a visit to Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)

“He got shot down in an area where there were a lot of cannibals in New Guinea at the time. They never recovered his body but the government went back when I went down there and checked and found parts of the plane.”

The US government’s record of missing service members does not attribute Finnegan’s death to hostile action or indicate cannibals were a factor.

According to the records Finnegan died on 14 May 1944, while riding as a passenger on an Army Air Forces plane that, “for unknown reasons,” was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean off the northern coast of New Guinea.

“Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft’s nose hit the water hard,” the agency states in its listing of Finnegan. “Three men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash.

Lt Ambrose Finnegan, Jr – or, ‘Uncle Bosie’ – was MIA in the Second World War
Lt Ambrose Finnegan, Jr – or, ‘Uncle Bosie’ – was MIA in the Second World War (Supplied)

“[Finnegan] has not been associated with any remains recovered from the area after the war and is still unaccounted-for.”

Mr Biden, who was born in 1942 and was a toddler at the time of his uncle’s death, told reporters that his family had a tradition of saying three Hail Marys at the gravesite of family members. The president’s elder son, Beau, died in 2015 of brain cancer, something the president has stated he believes was linked to his son’s deployment in Iraq and his exposure to so-called “burn pits”.

Referring to Mr Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mr Biden continued: “What I was thinking about when I was standing there was when Trump refused to go up to the memorial for veterans in Paris and he said they were a bunch of suckers and losers.

“That man doesn’t deserve to have been the commander in chief for my son, my uncle.”

Some former Trump officials have claimed the then-president used the disparaging terms to describe fallen service members and did not want to travel in 2018 to a cemetery for American war dead in France. Mr Trump previously denied the allegation, saying, “What animal would say such a thing?”

According to the Associated Press, White House spokesman Andrew Bates did not address the discrepancy between the agency’s records and Mr Biden’s account when he issued a statement on the matter.

“President Biden is proud of his uncle’s service in uniform,“ Mr Bates said, adding that Finnegan ”lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea.”

He added that the president had “highlighted his uncle’s story as he made the case for honouring our ‘sacred commitment ... to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home,’ and as he reiterated that the last thing American veterans are is ‘suckers’ or ‘losers.’”

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