Posted: May 31, 2016
By Celia Cohen
Delaware was supposed to be getting ready to vote on Beau Biden's candidacy for governor, not dedicating a National Guard complex in his memory.
A reference to the Biden headquarters was supposed to be about a campaign office, but what was to be is not to be. It is what it is not.
Instead, there will be the Major Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center, a tribute in bricks-and-mortar that was constructed two years ago for $48 million -- which is to say it is a long name and a lot of building for someone whose own view of himself was he was just "Beau."
It is fitting the building was dedicated on Memorial Day, because a year ago on this day Beau was gone at 46, and also because it is the right day to remember the legacy of a life who gave and gave of himself until there was no more to give.
It was a proud and solemn day. Joe Biden led that sprawling, fiercely loyal, quintessentially Irish-American clan of his, including Jill and Beau's wife Hallie and his brother Hunter and his sister Ashley and all the rest, traces of their grief still present, into the ceremony, which was held on the building's grounds in New Castle.
The crowd of about 500 people was a kaleidoscopic array of soldiers and civilians, political figures like the governor and the congressional delegation, and many old, old friends.
They included John Daniello, the Democratic state chair who was already in politics when Joe got there, and Ted Kaufman, who has been around whenever Joe or Beau needed him since the first campaign for senator in 1972 and was appointed to the seat when Joe gave it up, and David Walsh, who went back with Beau to the days they were toddlers and their fathers were law partners.
There were also Carl Danberg and Rich Gebelein, citizen-soldier-lawyers like Beau, or more precisely, citizen-soldier-lawyer-attorney-generals like Beau, and never mind the party affiliation, which was Democrat for Beau and Danberg and Republican for Gebelein.
Even with the size of the crowd and the expanse of the gathering, the setting was so intimate that it did not seem to matter to anyone that Joe was the Democratic vice president of the United States, only that he was Beau's father.
The ceremonies, staged outside of the Biden headquarters, lasted less than an hour, and not many people gave remarks, only Frank Vavala, the National Guard general, and Jack Markell, whose office as the Democratic governor makes him the Guard's commander-in-chief, and Joe.
They spoke of Beau's sense of purpose and sacrifice.
As Markell put it, "Like so many Delawareans who walk through the doors of this building, Beau answered the call. His life of service reminds us of a passage from the Book of Isaiah, notably inscribed as a caption of a painting in the Pentagon. When God asks, whom shall I send, who will go for us, Isaiah answered, here I am, send me. So too did Beau."
Memories of Beau hovered like a ghost, and the best that could be done was to try to bear witness to what he was and to try to make the coming generations understand, and so a plaque was placed on the Biden headquarters to proclaim Beau as a "First State treasure."
With the naming of the headquarters, Beau and the National Guard are intertwined for as long as a building can stand.
Strange to think it ever could have gone differently, but in a bittersweet irony, it seems apparent Beau would have had to part from the National Guard if he had been elected governor, or at least move to inactive status.
"Commander-in-chief and major wouldn't work," said a friend who knows the law.
It has been a year. It fell to Joe to turn the proceedings toward the future. He talked about the governorship and gave his public consent to John Carney, the Democratic congressman who is running in Beau's stead.
"Jack, John's right behind you," said Joe. "John was reluctant to run, I heard. He thought that was what Beau was going to do. I told him, John, there's nothing Beau would rather do that see you run for governor."
Beau is gone, but this was a ceremony for people who grasped it would not be wise to let go. There is a reason to connect a building and Beau. The idea is to turn the noun into a verb forevermore.
A building on Beau's legacy should mean what it says, building on Beau's legacy.