At a military veterans event in Delaware, President Joe Biden told a detailed story about how as vice president he presented one of his uncles, Frank Biden, with a Purple Heart, which his uncle refused to accept. But the facts of Biden’s story don’t add up.
Frank Biden, who served in the Army during World War II, died in 1999 — when Joe Biden was a senator, not vice president.
Also, Biden said he got the Purple Heart for his uncle at the urging of his father, Joseph R. Biden Sr. But Biden’s dad died in 2002, when the current president was still in the Senate.
The president made his remarks on Dec. 16 at Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center, the state’s National Guard headquarters, which was named after his son Beau, who died in 2015. He visited the center to urge military veterans to take advantage of new benefits available under the PACT Act.
Biden said his uncle “fought in the Battle of the Bulge” and “won the Purple Heart,” but “he never got it.” When Biden “got elected vice president,” he said his father urged him to get Uncle Frank a Purple Heart, which the Army says is awarded in the name of the president to “any member of an Armed Force or any civilian national of the United States wounded or killed, or who has died after being wounded” in a military conflict.
Biden said his Uncle Frank signed up for the Army a day after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.
Biden, Dec. 16: On the Finnegan side of the family, four brothers. Every single one volunteered the very next day, on Monday, to join. My uncle, Frank Biden, joined. My father was working in the shipyards.
The fact of the matter is that, you know, it wasn’t a second thought. They just showed up. And there’s a generation, represented by you, Ray, that doesn’t look for accolades.
You know, I — my dad, when I got elected vice president, he said, “Joey, Uncle Frank fought in the Battle of the Bulge.” He was not feeling very well now — not because of the Battle of the Bulge. But he said, “And he won the Purple Heart. And he never received it. He never — he never got it. Do you think you could help him get it? We’ll surprise him.”
So we got him the Purple Heart. He had won it in the Battle of the Bulge. And I remember he came over to the house, and I came out, and he said, “Present it to him, okay?” We had the family there.
I said, “Uncle Frank, you won this. And I want to…” He said, “I don’t want the damn thing.” (Laughter.) No, I’m serious. He said, “I don’t want it.” I said, “What’s the matter, Uncle Frank? You earned it.” He said, “Yeah, but the others died. The others died. I lived. I don’t want it.”
There are a few discrepancies in Biden’s story about his uncle.
We told the White House that we couldn’t find any support for the president’s story — at least how he told it. Both his uncle and father died in Wilmington, Delaware, years before Joe Biden became vice president. His uncle died at age 81 on Nov. 28, 1999, according to the Scranton Tribune, and his father died at 86 years old on Sept. 2, 2002, according to the Baltimore Sun. Joe Biden became vice president in January 2009.
We asked the White House if this incident happened and, if so, when. We asked if perhaps it occurred when Biden was a senator. But the White House did not answer our questions.
Also, our fact-checking colleagues at Snopes found that Frank Biden joined the Army on July 17, 1941 — which was months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, contrary to Biden’s claim that Frank Biden joined the Army a day after Pearl Harbor.
Snopes cited a Jan. 20, 2021, Facebook post by the National Cemetery Administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which gave the dates of Frank Biden’s service. (The NCA post also said Frank Biden was discharged from the Army on July 24, 1945 — seven months after the Battle of the Bulge commenced on Dec. 16, 1944. So it is possible that Frank Biden fought in that battle, although we cannot confirm that he did.)
We also couldn’t find any record that Frank Biden was awarded a Purple Heart, either while he was alive or posthumously.
Traces of War, a website on the history of global conflicts, says about 1.1 million World War II veterans received a Purple Heart, but its list of Purple Heart recipients does not include Frank Biden. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor also keeps a list of those honored with the award, but Frank Biden does not appear on that website, either.
The White House did not tell us if Joe Biden secured a Purple Heart for his uncle. And, when we told the White House that we could find no record of Frank Biden receiving a Purple Heart, the White House pointed us to a disclaimer on the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor website that says, “Enrollment is voluntary as there is no comprehensive list of Purple Heart recipients in existence.” The Army also notes that “there’s not a consistent record kept” of Purple Heart recipients.
But whether Frank Biden received a Purple Heart isn’t the issue. Instead, it’s the president’s story of securing a Purple Heart, while serving as vice president, and trying to present it to his uncle that’s suspect. The White House couldn’t say whether such an event ever happened.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.