HANNOVER, N.H. – Joe Biden painted a lively scene for the 400 people gathered in a college assembly hall. A four-star general had asked the then vice-president to travel to the Kunar province of Afghanistan on a dangerous excursion to the "godforsaken land" to acknowledge the remarkable heroism of a naval captain.
Some told him it was too risky, but Biden said he had dispelled their concerns. "We can lose a vice president," he said. "We can not lose many of these children any more, no kidding."
The naval captain, Biden recalled on Friday night, had set fire to a 60-foot canyon and found the body of an American comrade carrying him on his back Now the general wanted Biden to give a silver star to the American hero who, despite his bravery, felt like a failure.
"He said, 'Sir, I do not want that damned thing!' Said Biden jaw clenched and his voice rises to a scream. "Do not touch me, sir! Ask the man. Do not do that! He died. He died!
The room was quiet.
"This is the truth of God," Biden had said as he told the story, "My word as Biden."
Except that almost every detail in the From interviews with more than a dozen US soldiers, their commanders and campaigners in Biden, the former vice president has assembled elements from at least three actual events into one story of valor, compassion and regret. It never existed.
] Biden visited Kunar Province as US Senator, not vice president, in 2008. The service member who performed the famous salvation Biden described was a 20-year-old army specialist, not much older naval captain. And this soldier, Kyle J. White, never had a silver star or any other medal Biden had attached to him, at a White House ceremony six years after Biden's visit h White was struck when President Barack Obama put a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor medal, around his neck.
The Conclusion: Within three minutes, Biden got the period, the location, the heroic deed, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony.
One element of Biden's story is based on an actual event: The vice president has a heart-broken soldier, Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman, who did not believe he deserved the award.
"In Afghanistan, he was defended by Staff Sgt. Workman's bravery and selflessness, which reflects the duty and sacrifice of the 9/11 generation of veterans who have done so much in countless missions," said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden campaign, in a statement.
Bates described "honoring and honoring those who served our nation in uniform" was Biden's "most solemn commitment" during his long career. And he added that Biden "wholeheartedly supported a variety of overseas travel and domestic interactions" to uphold this charge.
The 76-year-old Biden struggled with gaffes and false statements during his presidential campaign, which are a result of his earlier political statements and has put a spotlight on his age. In 1987 Biden broke off the presidential election because he had plagiarized the speeches of a British politician and others.
One big question that candidates and voters faced more than 30 years later was whether President Trump's routine lies changed the standards by which other presidential aspirants, including Biden, should be judged. Since the beginning of his presidency until the middle of last month, Trump has made more than 12,000 false or misleading statements, the Washington Post found out. Since then he has further increased this sum.
Biden has used war stories to celebrate the military sacrifice and to attack Trump's version of patriotism, based on ferocity and firepower. The former vice president, like Trump, never served in the military. Biden's son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015, was sent to Iraq as an army lawyer in 2008, and the candidate ended almost all his speeches by saying, "May God protect our troops."
Nestled in Biden's medal history the test of his long career: foreign policy expertise, patriotism and perseverance through grief.
Biden's first public description of his trip to Kunar Province, which he made shortly after his return in early 2008, was broad but not nearly as emotional as the versions he later recounted on the campaign trail. In 2008 then-Sen. Biden flew with Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) And John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) By helicopter to Forward Operating Base Naray, not far from the Afghan border with Pakistan. There they saw Major General David Rodriguez give Spec a Bronze Star. Miles Foltz defying a heavy Taliban fire to rescue a wounded soldier. Spec. Tommy Alford had manned his machine gun on a hill when a Taliban bullet shot him through his jaw and neck. Foltz pulled Alford behind a nearby rock, deadened his bleeding, and then took his friend's weapon. Two soldiers were killed during the ambush, but Alford survived and even returned to unity a few months later to end his fight tour.
"It was pretty stupid what Foltz did that day," Colonel Chris Kolenda said in retirement. who was Foltz & # 39; commander in Afghanistan. "It was pretty great. , , , He saved many lives.
For Foltz, the memories of Biden's visit and the Bronze Star remain bittersweet. "I wrote about it for an English course when I graduated from college," he said. "I can not remember how I put it, but it's as if the medal is suppressing all the blame for all the things I did not do that day."
Biden returned home from his trip in 2008, worried that the United States lost the war and moved through the podium on the battlefield. "I know it sounds a bit cheesy," he said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, "but I do not think there was a dry eye in the house."
Biden seemed to have the story right up until No more telling in the summer of 2016, when the presidential campaign was in full swing and Trump heads the polls. In July of this year he told it at a World War II ceremony in Australia. In this version, Foltz, a young soldier, had been replaced by the apocryphal and much older naval captain, who, according to Biden, had "climbed down about 200 feet" into a gorge and found his wounded friend who had died. The bronze star has been upgraded to a Silver Star.
This time, Biden said he was the one who nailed the medal to the officer, not the general. "Sir, with respect, I do not want it," Biden recalled to the officer.
Months later, as the raging and divisive presidential campaign kicked off in 2016, Biden's story of the awards ceremony became less accurate. He told it at an October rally for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in response to Trump's comments that some troops were not mentally strong enough to withstand the fierce fighting. "Where the hell is he from?" Biden Trump asked in Florida that day.
This time Biden transferred the attitude of Afghanistan to Iraq. Instead of rappelling down a ravine, an army captain pulled a dead soldier out of a burning Humvee.
"He died. He died, Mr. Vice President, "Biden recalled to the officer. "I do not want the medal."
Biden pushed his forefinger into the air and shouted, "How many nights does the child fall asleep when he sees this picture in his head and deals with it?" The Pentagon is unaware that a military captain in Iraq received a Silver Star during the period described by Biden.
Three weeks later, Biden, Jason Kander, an Afghan war veteran who ran for the Senate in Missouri, told Iraq and Afghanistan versions in a single speech in a row. First, it was the naval captain who roped down the ravine in Kunar. "He died, he died, I did not deserve it," Biden quoted the medal recipient. Then he went to the army officer, the burning Humvee and Iraq. "This is the truth of God," Biden said. "As I approached him in full formation. , , "Sir," he whispered to me, "Sir, please do not please do not stick this to me, he died, sir, he died, I did not do my job, he died."
Then, on Friday New Hampshire came in. The scene was a town hall meeting on health, someone asked a mental health question, and Biden began talking about post-traumatic stress disorder and the high toll of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He pulled off his daily schedule The pocket of his blue blazer, an American flag pin to his lapels, Biden's report has counted the dead and wounded in the war zones every day for the past 13 years.
"Every morning I call the Ministry of Defense – no kidding – to be exact Find out how many women and men were killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, "he told the crowd." Nothing bothers me more than when someone says about 6,000 people have died No, as of this morning it is 6,883.
Then told Biden the latest and perhaps most inexact version of his Afghanistan story.
"I've been to Afghanistan and Iraq more than 30 times," he said. (His campaign later made it clear that the correct number is 21.) He spoke about Kunar Province, the naval captain – "Marine, Marine," which he emphasized – the deep ravine, the dead friend, and the moment of reckoning, as Biden the medal held on to the officer's uniform.
The version of Biden's story that is true – and equally heartbreaking – is one that he seldom tells. The scenery was not the Kunar province, but Wardak, southwest of Kabul. The medal recipient was Workman, 35, who had run into a burning vehicle to rescue his dying friend. When Workman had opened the door and thrown it into the flames, it was too late.
"I never pulled it out because it was melted," Workman recalled in a telephone interview earlier this week from Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington.
Workman's company commander informed him that the vice president was going to attach a bronze star to him for his heroism. "I tried to get away from work," remembers Workman, who has since been promoted to first sergeant. "I did not want this medal." Nevertheless, on January 11, 2011, on a cold, gray day, Workman was attentive as Biden pressed the medal to his chest. The moment is captured in a photo of the White House and in an interview by Biden with National Geographic from the year 2016.
So Biden remembered: "You see the expression on his face – he says, 'Sir, I don't want it. I do not want it. He died. He died. "
Workman's version is the same, but with one additional detail. He remembered that Biden had met his eyes. Workman told the vice president he did not want the medal.
"I know you do not," Biden replied softly.
Eight years later, Workman still remembers Biden looking at him.
He has that look from which his eyes can look into your eyes, "said Workman. "I felt he really understood."
Julie Tate contributed to this report.