Biden denies conflating details of war story
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden denied Thursday that he conflated details of a gripping war story he has told on the campaign trail after a Washington Post report called into question remarks by Biden last week and in previous years.
In an interview with a South Carolina newspaper, Biden also said that the “essence of the story” he has recounted was accurate.
According to the Post, “it appears as though the former vice president has jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened.”
“Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony,” the Post report also reads.
But, in an interview with Post and Courier, Biden, 76, said he did not believe he was conflating details of different events — though the former vice president also told the South Carolina newspaper he had not read the Washington Post report.
“I don’t understand what they’re talking about,” Biden told the Post and Courier, “but the central point is it was absolutely accurate what I said.”
The Post’s report comes amid questions about Biden’s age and his habit of gaffes, including a string of recent factual misstatements while on the presidential campaign trail.
Biden told the Post and Courier such concerns were “ridiculous” and disputed the notion “that there’s anything I said about that that wasn’t the essence of the story.”
The Biden campaign has not responded to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
The Washington Post’s reporting centered on three different events which share some similar features:(1) a Jan. 2008 visit Biden made to Kunar province in Afghanistan as a senator where he watched Spec. Miles Foltz receive a Bronze Star; (2) a 2008 rescue by a then-20-year-old Army specialist Kyle White who never received a Silver Star but did receive the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony years later; and (3) a 2011 ceremony for Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman who felt he didn’t deserve a medal but nonetheless received a Bronze Star pinned on him by Biden.
Biden first started to recount the tale of bravery in 2008, the Post reports and revived it again in 2016 during Democrat Hillary Clinton’s race against then-candidate Donald Trump. Biden is recounting now as he runs for president.
Biden’s latest version of the story, according to the Post, has a Navy captain rappelling down a 60-foot ravine in the Kunar province of Afghanistan in an unsuccessful effort to retrieve a wounded comrade who dies. Biden claims that the captain didn’t want to receive a Silver Star.
“This is God’s truth. My word as a Biden,” Biden reportedly said as he recounted the tale last week during a campaign event.
“One of his buddies got shot, fell down a ravine about 60 feet. A four-star general asked me whether I’d go up in the FOB,” Biden said during a town hall last week at Dartmouth College. “And everybody got concerned a vice president going up in the middle of this, but we can lose a vice president, we can’t lose many more of these kids, not a joke. This guy climbed down a ravine. Carried his guy up on his back under fire, and the general wanted me to pin the Silver Star on him.”
According to the Post’s reporting, Biden visited the Kunar province in 2008 as a senator, not as the vice president, and the soldier in the story was the 20-year-old Army specialist named Kyle White, not an older Navy captain.
Additionally, White was celebrated at a White House ceremony six years after Biden’s visit and had President Barack Obama place a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, around his neck — not a Silver Star
The Post concluded that Biden did, indeed, pin a medal on a soldier: Army Staff Sgt. Chad Workman.
Workman had tried to save a soldier from a burning vehicle in Afghanistan’s Wardak province, and Biden did pin a medal on him during a January 2011 ceremony.
Workman confirms one key element of Biden’s tale — that he did not want the medal given to him by the then-vice president.
“’I tried to get out of going,'” Workman recalled to the Post, ‘I didn’t want that medal.’”
In a 2016 interview with National Geographic, Biden recalled of the ceremony, “His commander asked me to pin a Bronze Star on him. And right before this – you see the look on his face – he says, ‘Sir, I don’t want it. I don’t want it. He died. He died. I didn’t do my job, sir. He died.'”
Those comments echo what Biden told the Post and Courier Thursday. “He refused the medal. I put it on him, he said, ‘Don’t do that to me, sir. He died. He died,’” Biden told the newspaper responding to the Washington Post report.
As for Foltz, he still remembers Biden’s visit and the medal he received as Biden and other senators watched. “’I wrote about it for an English class when I was going through college,’” Foltz told the Post. “’I can’t remember how I phrased it, but it’s like the medal helps hold down all the guilt for all the things I didn’t do that day.’”
In a statement provided to the Post, a spokesman for the Biden campaign said “In Afghanistan, he was moved by Staff Sgt. Workman’s valor and selflessness, which is emblematic of the duty and sacrifice of the 9/11 generation of veterans who have given so much across countless deployments,”
And Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director posted on Twitter Thursday afternoon quoting the end of the Post report but saying nothing more.