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Biden talks of Missouri ties at fundraiser here

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 16, 2009 - Vice President Joe Biden has added another stop to his packed two-day visit to Missouri.

After Friday morning's Middle Class Task Force event at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Biden plans to visit the Mathews Dickey Boys and Girls Club.

The White House says he'll be accompanied by Gov. Jay Nixon, U.S. Rep.Lacy Clay Jr. (who has a healthcare forum at the same time as the task force event), St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

According to the White House, the vice president also will meet some local high school students who attend the club.

"Afterwards, the Vice President and the Governor will make an announcement about a new program designed to train Missouri youth for 21st century jobs,'' the White House added.

That new program will be financed, at least in part, with federal stimulus money.

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Biden ended Day One of his two-day visit in Clayton, where he arrived around 6:45 p.m. Thursday at the St. Louis Club for a fundraising event for the Democratic National Committee. Tickets ranged from $500 to $10,000.

Until a few minutes before his arrival, there was little evidence of the event -- other than security in front of the building and discreetly situated in parked cars and elsewhere in the vicinity of the Pierre Laclede Building (the club's locale).

Most of the attendees apparently slipped in the back, close to the parking, for the official 6 p.m. start. The only notables witnessed by yours truly to enter the building were U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, and Democratic money-raiser extraordinaire Joyce Aboussie, longtime political director to former U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-St. Louis.

According to the official pool reporter, the Post-Dispatch's Jake Wagman, a lot of regional officialdom was present, including St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, former state Democratic Party chairman John Temporiti (who's now Dooley's campaign treasurer), St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the mayoral right (and left) arm, Jeff Rainford.

From my observation outside, shortly before Biden's entourage drove up, police showed up en masse to temporarily close off streets -- even from foot traffic -- while a helicopter hovered overhead.

According to the pool report, Biden's speech began shortly after 7 p.m., after he was introduced by Russ Carnahan. (Former Sen. Jean Carnahan, the congressman's mother, was in the audience.)

But just as Biden began his address, he stepped off the stage to hug Barbara Eagleton, the widow of former U.S. Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, D-Mo., who served some his 18-year tenure with Biden.

"Tom Eagleton was one of my great friends," Biden said.

The vice president then told how Barbara Eagleton had encouraged him to have dinner with her and other couples after the 1972 accident that killed his wife and daughter.

"Barbara and Tom helped change my life," Biden said.

Biden spoke for several minutes in praise of the late senator Eagleton.

Biden also gave credit to another legendary Missouri senator, Stuart Symington, who Biden said taught him how to properly fold a pocket handkerchief.

According to the pool report, "Most of Biden's speech to the crowd focused on extolling President Barack Obama's 'impressive' start, mentioning, among other actions, the high-speed rail announcement from earlier in the day and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed in January.

"The president has been criticized as being too ambitious - that's what I love about him," Biden said.

Biden also lauded the Obama adminstration for its focus on innovation and research. "Science is back at the White House," Biden said.

Wagman also observed: "When referring to our state, Biden seemed to favor the 'Missour-ah' pronunciation, the subject of extensive debate here in Miss-our-ee."

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UPDATE -- Here's the text of the vice president's remarks at Whiteman:

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you all very much. (Applause.)  It's a genuine honor to be here, and where I come from, if you speak much more than 10 minutes with an audience standing, you're bound to lose them. So I'm going to try to be brief with you all, but let you know that I'm genuinely honored to be here.

And I tell you what, seeing that B-2 looking over my shoulder is some sight. You know, I just want the record to note, since there's press here, that when Ike said, "the best Air Force Base in America," I clapped.  I don't want anybody back in Dover getting angry. (Laughter.) I just want you to know we're used to those big ol' jobs, you know those big ol' C-5As and Bs. And I'll tell you what, you're all -- you're all great.

The first thing I want to do though is congratulate Technical Sergeant Townsend for his service; you know, 17,000 miles on those roads, old buddy. As my Italian friends say, that's a lot of (inaudible), that's a lot of worry, man, because I tell you, we have lost -- as all of you know, and most Americans haven't focused on it -- we have lost literally thousands of Americans. The 70 percent of all those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan have been as a consequence of an IED or projectile, the very people riding along in those convoys. And the number has exceeded now over 4,000 in Iraq, and approaching 1,000 in Afghanistan.

So it was no mean feat, everyone should know.  You all know, in uniform, know. But the people listening to this should know it is no mean feat what's going on today in Afghanistan and Iraq, and goes on as speak -- as we speak.  So we owe, we owe a debt of gratitude. But it was a great honor, Sergeant, to be able to pin that bronze star on you.  You were probably less concerned jumping in the convoy than you were coming up here on stage, but you did well.

And I also want to thank my friend, Ike Skelton, for inviting me.  You know, as you all continue and have fought for your country, you're all very fortunate to have a man like Ike fighting for you.  I've never seen anybody as tenacious in fighting for his district, but more importantly, specifically fighting for the military -- fighting for the military, including this base.  He's been a long-time proponent -- a long-time proponent of making sure that life is better not only for you, that you're equipped and you have all you need, but that life is better on the base for you as well as your families.

You know, there's an old expression, "Those also serve who stand and wait."  An awful lot of your families, when you saddle up, they're left behind worrying about what's going to happen, worrying about whether that mission -- how it's going to take place.  Those of you who are deployed on the ground, they're left alone for periods of time.  And, you know, Ike has supported better military pay, better military health care, better military education, better lives for the men and women in uniform, and no less important is their families.  The families are never left out when Ike starts talking about and appropriating the money needed for the United States military.

And the Skelton name is synonymous with a deep commitment to the armed services, embodied by the Naval Reserve Building bearing his father's name -- Ike's dad's name, and a child development center named for his late wife who I knew well, and a wonderful woman, Susie. 

And his work on your behalf is exactly -- is exactly what we need, the President and me, to ensure that we maintain the absolute best equipped military in the world.  You are.  You are. 

As the commander and I were talking about, you are the premier military, not only in the world today, but it is not hyperbole to suggest in the history of the world.  And anybody who tells me -- (applause) -- some of the older folks start talking about this generation.  I just say, come with me.  Come with me and look.  Come with me into the mountains of Afghanistan.  Come with me up to Kunar Valley.  Come with me into the multiple cities I've been in to Iraq in the middle of this war.  Come to me -- with me, 15 years ago and 10 years ago in Bosnia.  Then you'll see that your generation are the most powerful, best disciplined, best trained warriors America has ever, ever produced.  And for that I thank you and we owe you -- and that is not an exaggeration.  (Applause.)

Folks, to the President, the Secretary of State and to me, when I say, "We owe you," these are not idle phrases.  When we say, "We owe you," we mean it more than just a nice salutation. 

That's why we're working so hard to improve the quality of life on bases all across America.  Here at Whiteman that means -- why we're here with $17.8 million investing to modernizing your facilities and generally improving the quality of life here. 

That's why the Recovery Act you hear so much about includes more than $7 billion -- in addition to the regular budget -- more than $7 billion for military construction projects, breaking ground on hospitals, child care centers, better housing. 

That's why we fought so hard for the most expansive GI Bill since the end of World War II to make college more affordable. 

All in all, this administration is wholly devoted to serving the brave women and men in uniform.  As you sacrifice to serve our country, we should do a little sacrifice serving you.

But our commitment doesn't end when your time at this base ends.  All of you will one day be veterans.  And our commitment extends to veterans, as well, because they have been forgotten a lot the last eight years, last 15 years.  President Obama and I are proud that our first budget, in these very tough times, we've increased funding for veterans to the tune of $25 billion -- increased funding for veterans for the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Applause.)

That's never happened before.  It's the biggest budget increase in a generation.  And when we proposed it, people said, how can you do that in the midst of this economy?  And our response is, how can we not do that? How can we not do that?

Over 15,000 of the wounded coming home, not to count the fallen angels, came home to be buried.  The life expectancy of 15,000 of those -- well over 30,000 who've been wounded -- is going to be somewhere in the tune of 35 years.  But of that, roughly 15,000 will need the most modern medical health care for the rest of their lives.  The cost of that will be in the tens of billions of dollars, but it's a sacred, a sacred commitment.  The only sacred commitment a nation has is to prepare those we send, equip them with all they need, and care for whatever their needs are when they come home. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we dramatically increased health care coverage, providing adequate resources to give 5.5 million veterans timely and high quality health care.  We expand health care eligibility, bringing 500,000 new veterans into the VA system.  And just 15 years ago, as Ike could tell you, the talk was, are we going to close VA hospitals and fold them in?  You remember that, Ike?  Well, in the end, we're providing services to veterans with the efficiency and quality they deserve, and keeping that deep debt that we owe that you should and have a right to demand.

I believe, as I said, there's only one sacred obligation, one, that comes before all others.  We care deeply for every -- Republicans and Democrats alike, all those of us who serve -- care deeply for every man and woman who cares deeply enough to serve this country so honorably, which includes every one of you in this hangar.  We owe you a particular obligation today, because there's tens of thousands of men and women who have already fought and continue to fight bravely for our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

There are families -- families back at home -- I don't have to tell some of the National Guardsmen here -- who wasn't planning on this being your day job.  But guess what, it's become a day job for tens of thousands of Guardsmen, in addition to all your families -- all your families.

And to the families of the 4,275 men and women, the fallen angels in Iraq, the 673 fallen angels in Afghanistan, to all of them -- to the more than 35,000 wounded in theater -- I say to the families, thank you, thank you, and we owe you -- we owe you as deeply as we owe your kin, your blood. 

You know, in the more than dozen times I've flown out of Iraq and Afghanistan, on occasion I've walked into those C-130s with the fallen angels strapped to the floor, and when you see that, it turns that cavernous opening into a cathedral, because you know there's a family waiting at the other end.  So, folks, we know what you do.  We know what you risk.  And we know on this base what a remarkable, remarkable, remarkable capability you have. 

I was saying to the commander I spent a lot of time in Bosnia, in Kosovo.  And I spent time before we sent troops there helping convince the President we should act.  And the thing that the French military, the British military and others marveled at that you guys and women get up from your dinner table, suit up, get one of these magnificent birds, fly round-trip over 30 hours, deliver a lethal cargo with precision -- was beyond anything any other generation ever thought possible, saving the lives of your comrades on the ground and clearing the way for America's interest.

You stunned the rest of the world.  They knew it on paper, but they never saw it, Commander.  And the way you executed it with such incredible, incredible precision, absolutely had a mind-altering impact on our allies as well as our enemies.  We're proud of you.

You know, I read before I came here today about your base's nickname -- no, excuse me -- namesake, Second Lieutenant George Whiteman, who I learned was one of the first men killed in Pearl Harbor.  I honestly didn't know that before I was scheduled to come here.  After his death -- and you may know the story -- but after his death, a reporter went and talked to his mom.  And his mother gave the reporter a photograph of her son sitting in an aircraft where the Lieutenant had inscribed on it, "Lucky, lucky me."  Lucky, lucky me.

To me that story speaks volumes about the pride the airmen on this base and all through this nation around the world take in doing their jobs, about the sense of honor and duty that surrounds you every time you put on that uniform and step into a cockpit or ready an aircraft to be head off the runway.  It's about your unyielding commitment to your country.  It's about everything that makes each and every one of you so special. 

You are lucky, it's true.  But even luckier, even truer is we.  Your grateful nation are lucky there are men and women like you ready to serve as you have and you continue to.

So from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of every one of those young men and women on the ground like my son in Iraq, I say to all of you I admire you, the President admires you, and we are putting our money where our mouth is in terms of seeing to it that you have everything you need as you deploy, when you deploy, and when you come home.

So I say thank you, God bless you, and may God protect our troops around the globe.  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause.)

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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