NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — President Joe Biden visited naval facilities in Virginia on Sunday to kick off the weeklong Thanksgiving holiday, presenting an early screening of the upcoming “Wonka” movie and sharing a “friends” meal with service members and their relatives. .
President and first lady Jill Biden visited the U.S. Naval Base Hampton Roads to showcase the new film center based around the beginnings of Roald Dahl’s fictional eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka. The film will officially release on December 15.
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 service members from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Gerald R. Ford at Naval Station Norfolk, the largest installation of its kind in the world, as well as their families. Before leaving for dinner, Biden told families during his speech that the military is “the literal backbone of this country,” adding: “1 percent of you, just one ‘defends’ 99 percent of you We “.
The event brought together hundreds of attendees seated on folding chairs and around circular wooden tables inside a concrete-floored hanger that included a display of a Blackhawk helicopter, a towering American flag and a display with the image of the White House surrounded by falling leaves and the words “Happy Thanksgiving”.
“I mean from the bottom of my heart,” the president said. “Family members, you are at the heart of this operation.”
For dinner, Biden served mashed potatoes while attendees waited in line for the buffet-style meal. Jill Biden served sweet potato casserole to attendees. The menu also included slow-roasted bourbon-brined turkey topped with giblet gravy and cranberry-orange compote, smoked spiral-cut ham glazed with maple and mustard, cornbread stuffing brioche, candied walnuts, roasted garlic and crème fraîche, as well as mascarpone and toasted espresso whipped cream. cream.
Meanwhile, Biden’s 2024 Republican rival Donald Trump was scheduled to make a military visit to Texas on Sunday. The former president, who has taken a sizable lead in the 2024 GOP primary, was in Edinburgh after serving meals to National Guard troops, soldiers and others who will be stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border during Thanksgiving.
Trump is promoting tough 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 for the nation’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 the age of 46, while Joe Biden was vice president.
Jill Biden spoke about Beau’s deployment at the Wonka event, telling the crowd: “I know many here miss their mother, their father or their spouse. »
“While nothing can make up for that empty chair at the table, for us, the kindness of our community and finding moments of joy helps make things a little easier,” she said.
As he prepared to celebrate with his troops at home, the war between Israel and Hamas and the plight of hostages, including Americans, held by the militants in Gaza, were front and center for the president. A reporter asked Biden upon his arrival in Norfolk when more hostages might be released, to which he responded, “I’m not in a position to tell you.” »
The Bidens learned of the death of former first lady Rosalynn Carter during their visit, announcing her passing just before serving the celebratory meal among friends. Jill Biden asked guests to “include the Carter family in your prayers” during the holiday season. Carter, she said, “was well known for her efforts in mental health, care and women’s rights.”
The president did not mention Carter. He did talk about watching Beau Biden’s children during his deployment, but then seemed too emotional to continue and said, “I don’t want to talk about that.” » The sadness was temporary. A moment later, he leaned in lightly and joked with a 6-year-old, saying, “What are you, 17?”
“Happy, happy Thanksgiving,” Biden said. “May God love you all.”
Friendly relations with the military have 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, home to more than 9,000 military personnel and about 8 000 members of their families.
In 2021, the Bidens visited the Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina for a Thanksgiving meal in a hangar for about 250 service members and their families. Troops received chocolate chip cookies bearing the presidential seal.
The president and first lady plan to spend Thanksgiving on Nantucket, an island in Massachusetts.