Twelve wounded troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, several missing both their legs, were clustered Monday around two long tables at the vice president’s home.
Joe and Jill Biden’s third annual holiday meal for injured military personnel fell on an especially poisonous day of partisan finger-pointing in Washington. A special congressional “supercommittee” admitted that it had failed to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion.
Vice President Biden did not mention the committee’s collapse. He barely acknowledged the war in Afghanistan or the controversial mission in Iraq, which is drawing to a close next month.
Instead, he spoke briefly about what he said was the country’s most sacred duty.
“We have a lot of obligations as a country,” Biden said. “We have obligations to the young, the old and the infirm. We have only one true sacred obligation, and that is to provide for those of you we send into harm’s way and give you every single, solitary thing that you could possibly need to make the transition back home reasonable and workable. That is the only truly, truly sacred obligation we have.”
To Biden’s right sat Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen Ayhens, 20, who in June lost both legs above the knee when he stepped on a buried bomb in Afghanistan. On Biden’s left was Marine Lance Cpl. William Carpenter, 22, who a year ago survived a blast from a hand grenade.
The dozen troops — 11 wounded in Afghanistan and one in Iraq — were joined by spouses and parents. A fire crackled in the dining room fireplace and glinted off of a crystal chandelier. The troops dined on turkey, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a fall harvest salad and pumpkin pie.
At a table wedged into the entryway of the vice president’s home, Jill Biden sat with Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Misiewicz, a 23-year-old from La Grange, Ill., near Chicago.
Misiewicz, a former hockey player who came to the dinner with his mother, lost both legs in Afghanistan’s Sangin district just four months ago.
The most exciting part of his day came several hours before he arrived at the vice president’s official home at the Naval Observatory on Monday and slid his wheelchair next to Mrs. Biden. It happened when doctors decided that his left stump had healed enough for him to get cast for a prosthetic leg.
Misiewicz said he will start off with a “shorty” prosthetic device, a smaller version of the leg that is designed to help amputees learn balance. “I’ll finally start walking,” he said. “I’ve been hopping around on one leg for quite a while.”
Before the meal began, the vice president spoke of one of the few issues that unites both Republicans and Democrats in Washington.
“We are absolutely committed — the president and I, and future presidents will be as well — to making sure that every single breakthrough that occurs in medicine and prostheses is available to you the rest of your lives,” Biden said. “So folks, we love you.”