Veterans Partied on Without Obama

Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden arrives during the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the Capitol on Jan. 21, 2013 in Washington.

President Barack Obama skipped the American Legion’s veterans ball for the second time, favoring his own inaugural event for service members.

About two dozen recipients of the Medal of Honor joined hundreds attending the organization’s “Salute to Heroes” ball, a 60-year tradition designed to recognize soldiers given the top military award for valor in combat.

Vice President Joe Biden subbed in for Obama. He arrived shortly after attendees finished their entrées — beef medallions and swordfish — and after the dinner soundtrack had played country star Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” for the second time in two hours.

“The entire country owes you,” Biden told the veterans and their families gathered at Marriott International Inc.’s Renaissance hotel in downtown Washington. `”Where your service ends, as citizens, our obligation begins.”

Biden’s eldest son, Beau, Delaware’s attorney general, served in Iraq for a year as a member of the Army National Guard. Hunter Biden, Beau’s younger brother, is about to be sworn in as a Navy officer, the vice president said last night.

Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and attended the American Legion event, praised Biden’s speech. The vice president “truly understands” the sacrifice of military families, Miller said.

Less than two miles away, Obama again hosted his own inaugural gathering for troops, the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball, at the Washington Convention Center.

This is the second time Obama hasn’t made the American Legion event. In 2009, he became the first president to miss the ball since it was first held in 1953 and Dwight Eisenhower had just taken office.

“We know he has a lot going on,” Marty Callaghan, an American Legion spokesman, said midway through last night’s event. “The president is always welcome here.”

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