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The event could not have happened as President Joe Biden described. Obituaries for the president’s uncle show he died in 1999, almost a decade before Biden became vice president, and Biden’s father died in 2002.
It's possible that such an event occurred under different circumstances, such as while Biden was serving in the U.S. Senate, and before his father and uncle died. Still, we found no evidence to support that claim.
The White House offered no additional evidence to support Biden’s claim.
When President Joe Biden participated in a Delaware town hall for U.S. veterans, he told the crowd a story about awarding a Purple Heart to his late uncle, Frank H. Biden, while vice president.
Biden's voice grew tender as he recounted the story about his uncle's refusal to accept the award because "the others died." He likened that sense of character to the generation of soldiers who fought in Iraq.
The Purple Heart is a military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who were wounded or killed in action against an enemy, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In Biden's telling of the story, it happened sometime after the 2008 election. Here are Biden's full comments about his uncle and the Purple Heart:
"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, OK?’ 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.’ 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.’"
In the days after the event, conservative media outlets, the Republican National Committee and fellow fact-checkers called Biden's story as he described it into question. Our review lands at a similar conclusion.
Obituaries for the president’s uncle show he died in 1999, almost a decade before Biden became vice president. Biden's father died in 2002, while Biden represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate.
The White House did not respond to our request for comment.
According to the obituaries, Biden's uncle died Nov. 28, 1999, nearly a decade before Biden was elected vice president. The retired car salesman died at 81.
So, Biden's uncle couldn't have refused a Purple Heart after Biden was elected vice president in 2008. Both obituaries mention Frank H. Biden's military service, but do not mention a Purple Heart.
Images of the uncle's gravestone — included in a Facebook post from the U.S. Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration — don't mention the recognition.
The absence of this detail doesn't necessarily mean Frank H. Biden didn't receive a Purple Heart. However, PolitiFact was unable to confirm that he did, and his name is not listed in directories of recipients online. (Enrollment in those listings is voluntary.)
The U.S. Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration's Facebook post recognizing Frank H. Biden on Jan. 20, 2021 — the day of Joe Biden's inauguration as president — provided more insight into the military service of the president's uncle.
Frank H. Biden entered the U.S. Army on July 17, 1941, and was discharged July 24, 1945 — about seven months after the Battle of the Bulge — at McGuire General Hospital in Virginia.
Biden said that after the 2008 presidential election, he tried to give his uncle a Purple Heart medal for his World War II military service.
Although it’s possible Frank H. Biden refused the award, it couldn't have happened after Biden was elected vice president in 2008. Biden's uncle died in 1999, almost a decade before Biden was elected vice president. And Biden's father — another prominent person in Biden's story — died in 2002.
It’s possible that such an event occurred under different circumstances while Biden was serving in the U.S. Senate, but PolitiFact found no evidence to corroborate the claim as described by Biden. We rate Biden’s claim False.
The White House, Remarks by President Biden at a Delaware veterans summit and PACT Act town hall, Dec. 16, 2022
The News Journal, Joseph R. Biden Sr. obituary, Sept. 3, 2002
The News Journal, Frank H. Biden obituary, Dec. 1, 1999
The Tribune, Frank H. Biden obituary, Dec. 1, 1999
Facebook post, Jan. 20, 2021
Snopes, Did Joe Biden award his uncle a Purple Heart during vice presidency, Dec. 19, 2022
Factcheck.org, Biden’s story about Uncle Frank doesn’t add up, Dec. 19, 2022
YouTube, President Biden delivers remarks at a Delaware veterans summit and PACT Act town hall, Dec. 16, 2022
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