WASHINGTON — In one of his first acts as president, buttressed by several of his predecessors, President Biden on Wednesday moved a ceremonial segment of his inauguration to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, paying his respects at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Reflecting upon the memorial on the first sunny Inauguration Day in 28 years, former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton stood by as Mr. Biden arrived with Vice President Kamala Harris to lay a wreath before the tomb, standing in silence for a long moment in a solemn display of solidarity.
Approaching the wreath, Mr. Biden made the sign of the cross before saluting while a military band’s trumpeter played taps.
Mr. Biden, who ended his Inaugural Address on Wednesday with an oft-repeated refrain — “may God protect our troops” — delivered a message of unity which he emphasized with this tribute to the United States military alongside the three former presidents.
Mr. Biden never served in the military, having received draft deferments during the Vietnam War. But his display honored not only current and former members of the military but also called to mind his son Joseph R. Biden III, known as Beau, who served as an Army major and died of brain cancer in 2015.
The choice to visit the tomb immediately after the inauguration was a first for a newly elected president, providing a bipartisan display of support for the country’s armed forces.
Established in honor of unnamed soldiers lost in the First World War, the memorial has become a place to honor the sacrifices of American service members. Remains have been added over time, with burials conducted in 1958 and 1984 of those lost in later wars.
The memorial has been a favored destination for Mr. Biden, who also visited the site as vice president under Mr. Obama. Former President Trump, who did not attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration or the ceremony, laid a wreath there in 2017, but drew backlash for skipping events honoring fallen soldiers on Veterans Day the following year.
The former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton also stood by in silence as the ceremony took place.
Former President Jimmy Carter, the only other living former president, was unable to attend the inauguration or the ceremony, but he spoke in support of Mr. Biden after the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Having observed elections in troubled democracies worldwide, I know that we the people can unite to walk back from this precipice to peacefully uphold the laws of our nation, and we must,” Mr. Carter said after rioters swept through the building this month. “We join our fellow citizens in praying for a peaceful resolution so our nation can heal and complete the transfer of power, as we have for more than two centuries.”