WASHINGTON — On the night before his inauguration, Joe Biden led a national tribute Tuesday for the 400,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus, saying “To heal, we must remember.”
“It’s hard sometimes to remember,” the president-elect said at a COVID-19 memorial held at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. “But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here.”
In a visual memorial for the victims, the reflecting pool featured 400 lights illuminating on its north and south sides, creating a striking image with the rest of the National Mall dark. It was the first-ever lighting around the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool.
“Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we lost,” Biden said.
Hundreds of other towns and cities took part in the tribute from their locations, according to Biden’s transition team. Iconic buildings like New York’s’ Empire State Building and the Space Needle in Seattle were also illuminated.
The brief service was kicked off by an invocation from Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington and capped by music from gospel singer Yolanda Adams, who sang “Hallelujah.” Biden, his wife Jill Biden, and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff stood in silent reflection during a moment of silence.
Biden was preceded by, Lori Marie Key, a nurse at the Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Michigan, who sang “Amazing Grace.”
“If there are any angels in heaven, they’re all nurses,” Biden said to Key, recounting what he told the archbishop before the service began. “We know from our family experience what you do, the courage and the pain you absorb for others. So, thank you. Thank you.”
Harris spoke as well. “For many months, we have grieved by ourselves,” she said. “Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together. Though we may be physically separated, we the American people are united in spirit.”
Biden campaigned on listening to scientists to combat the virus in a departure from President Donald Trump. Last week Biden introduced a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, that he’s asked Congress plan. He also released a plan that seeks to get 100 million Americans vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine within 100 days.
Ahead of the memorial service, several families came out to wave to Biden’s motorcade as it drove through Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood before crossing the Anacostia River on the way to the National Mall.
Biden is set to stay the night at the Blair House, the official guesthouse of the White House. He will begin his day Wednesday at a Mass service at St. Matthew’s Cathedral before traveling to the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration ceremony.
Biden arrived in Washington by plane with his family Tuesday after previous plans to travel from his hometown of Wilmington, Del. to Washington were scratched because of security concerns, the Associated Press reported.
“This is kind of emotional for me,” said Biden, choking up at a send-off event before taking the short flight. “You’ve been with me my whole career, through the good times and the bad. I want to thank you for everything.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.