‘My two boys were on top of their mother and sister’: Biden opens up about death of first wife and daughter

President praised firefighters for saving lives of two sons, lauding dedication to service

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Thursday 13 October 2022 15:32 BST
Biden says firefighters saved his sons lives when his wife and daughter died

President Joe Biden opened up about the death of his first wife and daughter during remarks at an event honouring firefighters on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Summit on Fire Prevention and Control in the South Court Auditorium of the White House, the president spoke movingly and appreciatively about how first responders saved his sons from the car wreck that killed their mother and sister.

He also recalled two personal experiences in which firefighters had saved his own life over the years.

“Way back in 1972 before I got sworn in, my wife … was Christmas shopping with my three children and a tractor-trailer, they got in an accident — broadsided — it killed my wife, killed my daughter,” the president recalled.

“My two boys, who were then almost three and almost four, were on top of their dead sister and mother, and it took the jaws of life from my local fire department volunteers to get them out and get them to the hospital, and it saved their lives.”

Mr Biden had three children with his first wife, Neilia Biden, whom he married in 1966.

In order of birth, they were Joseph Robinette III, known as Beau; Robert Hunter; and Naomi Christina, known as Amy.

On 18 December 1972, Neilia was driving with the three children to buy a Christmas tree when their car was hit by a tractor-trailer.

Both Neilia and Naomi Biden were pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Naomi was just over a year old at the time.

The two boys survived, but with serious injuries. Mr Biden was sworn into the Senate on 3 January 1973 at the hospital where his sons were recovering.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr Biden also recalled two other occasions when firefighters came to his aid.

Once while filming for Meet the Press, the president said that lightning struck a small pond behind his house and came up through the ground into the air conditioning system, generating thick black smoke that filled the house.

A fire that start between the joists of the kitchen floor almost led to it collapsing into the basement, endangering the firefighters who had responded to the incident.

On another occasion, Mr Biden said that he was rushed to the hospital by his local fire company in the midst of a snowstorm for a nine-hour operation to attend to a cranial aneurysm.

“They got me down, they saved my life,” the president said. “And so I owe you, and so many other Americans owe you as well.”

After the deaths of Nelia and Amy, Senator Biden was dedicated to the recovery of his two young sons.

He met future first lady Jill Tracy Jacobs on a blind date in 1975, and the pair were married in 1977. In 1981 they had a daughter, Ashley Blazer.

Beau Biden passed away from brain cancer at the age of 46 in 2015. Hunter Biden and Ashley Biden remain close with their father, introducing him at the 2020 Democratic National Convention before he accepted the presidential nomination.

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