NORFOLK, Va. — President Joe Biden visited naval installations in Virginia on Sunday to kick off the Thanksgiving holiday week, featuring an advance viewing of the next film “Wonka” and sharing a “friendship” meal with service members and their families.
Biden also paid tribute Sunday to former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died Sunday, and President Jimmy Carter. “They brought a lot of grace to the office,” Biden said.
The president and first lady Jill Biden addressed a packed auditorium at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads to introduce the new film centered on the childhood of Roald Dahl’s eccentric fictional chocolatier, Willy Wonka. It will be officially released on December 15th.
He joked to the many young people in the crowd, “I like kids more than adults,” and added, “I wish I could stay and watch Wonka with you.”
Instead, the Bidens helped serve dinner with military personnel from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Gerald R. Ford at Naval Station Norfolk, the largest installation of its kind in the world, along with their families.
“You are literally the backbone, the backbone of this nation,” the president said. “Just 1% of you, that’s all, protects 99% of us.”
The event featured about 400 service members and their families seated in folding chairs and around circular wooden tables inside a concrete-floored hanger that included three Blackhawk helicopters, a towering American flag and a screen with the image of the White House surrounded by falling trees. leaves and the words “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“I mean from the bottom of my heart,” the president said. “Family members, you are the heart of this operation.” He said he was going to hand out clothes and joked, “If you don’t like dressing up, come and pretend you do and say hi to me.”
But the president served mashed potatoes as attendees lined up for the buffet-style meal. Jill Biden served sweet potato casserole to attendees. They stood on either side of chef Robert Irvine, whose foundation helped organize the meal, and both chatted with those in line, which included many children.
At one point, a child asked Jill Biden something. She laughed and served a portion of casserole that contained only marshmallows, omitting any sweet potatoes.
The menu also included slow-roasted bourbon-brined turkey topped with giblet gravy and cranberry-orange compote, spiral-cut smoked ham with mustard-maple glaze, brioche and cornbread stuffing, candied pecans, roasted garlic, and crème fraiche and a toasted espresso mascarpone. Whipped cream.
At the end of the event, participants presented Biden with a birthday cake. He turns 81 on Monday.
Meanwhile, Biden’s 2024 Republican rival, Donald Trump, was scheduled for a military visit Sunday to Texas. The former president, who has an early lead in the 2024 Republican Party primaries, was in Edinburgh after serving meals to National Guard troops, soldiers and others who will be stationed at the US-Mexico border during Thanksgiving Day of Thanks.
Trump is pushing hard-line immigration proposals that he says will better secure the border. He and top Republicans have long criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to crack down on people entering the United States illegally.
For the Bidens, offering support to the country’s military has a personal connection. Their son, Beau, served in Iraq as a member of the Delaware National Guard. He died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46, when Joe Biden was vice president.
Jill Biden spoke about Beau’s deployment at the Wonka event, telling the crowd, “I know there are many here who miss their mom, dad or spouse.”
“While nothing can make up for that empty seat at the table, for us, the kindness of our community and finding moments of joy help make everything a little easier,” she said.
As he prepared to celebrate with troops at home, the war between Israel and Hamas and the fate of hostages, including Americans, held by the militants in Gaza, were top of mind for the president. A reporter asked Biden, upon arriving in Norfolk, when more hostages might be released, to which he responded, “I’m not in a position to tell you that,” and added, “I want to make sure they’re out and then I’ll get to you.” tell.”
The Bidens learned of Rosalynn Carter’s death during their visit, announcing her passing just before serving the Thanksgiving meal. Jill Biden asked customers to “include the Carter family in your prayers” during the holiday season. Carter, she said, “was well known for her efforts in mental health, caregiving and women’s rights.”
Biden, speaking to reporters as he boarded Air Force One to leave Norfolk, described the Carters as a couple of grace and integrity and praised Jimmy Carter as a person who worked as hard for others after leaving the White House as he did in office.
“Imagine, they were together for 77 years,” he added. “God bless you.”
Biden also talked at the dinner with military personnel about caring for Beau Biden’s children while he was deployed, but later seemed too emotional to continue and said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” The sadness was fleeting. A moment later, he happily bent down and played with a 6-year-old, saying “How much are you, 17?”
“Happy, happy Thanksgiving,” Biden said. “May God love you all.”
Friendship with the military has become a tradition for the Bidens. Last year, they served mashed potatoes and other sides as part of a buffet-style meal in Cherry Point, North Carolina, where more than 9,000 military personnel and about 8,000 military families live.
In 2021, the Bidens visited the Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina for an early Thanksgiving meal in a hangar for about 250 service members and their families. The troops received chocolate chip cookies with the presidential seal.
The president and first lady plan to spend Thanksgiving on Nantucket, an island in Massachusetts.