One day after Vice President Joseph R. Biden exhorted Americans to “buy a shotgun” if they want protection from intruders, he delivered a heartfelt testament to 18 police officers and firefighters receiving the Medal of Valor for showing tremendous courage under fire.
Mr. Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder presented the medals, the country’s highest honor for public safety officials, at a ceremony attended by family members and fellow officers. Four of the medals were awarded posthumously to officers who had died in the line of duty.
“You all share — you’re all crazy, God love you — you all share a selflessness that’s not easy to explain, a commitment to your fellow man that’s rare, a bravery that inspires,” Mr. Biden said, his voice full of emotion.
Speaking to the widows of two of the fallen officers, Mr. Biden shared the story about how he lost his wife and daughter in a car accident early in his Washington career and tried to console them.
“I know this is an incredibly bittersweet moment for you because on every one of these occasions, you relive the moment you got the call,” he said. “And you got a lot more courage than I had some years ago.”
The recipients’ stories were full of heroism and riveting moments. In one, Reeshemah Taylor, a corrections officer, disarmed her much larger attacker inside Florida’s Osceola County Jail while he was holding a gun to her head. Officials said the inmate had taken a fellow officer hostage, changed into the officer’s uniform and was planning to walk out of the jail and shoot anyone who tried to stop him.
In another, New York firefighter Peter Demontreux was trying to rescue a man from a burning apartment when the entire floor of the building exploded. Mr. Demontreux’s uniform caught fire, and he was badly burned, but he still managed to get the man to safety and spare both of their lives.
After Mr. Holder thanked the group for standing on the front lines against crime, terrorism and threats to U.S. communities, Mr. Biden draped the medals, suspended on purple- and yellow-striped ribbons, around each recipient’s neck.
Tears flowed among the brief flashes of smiles and quiet thank yous.
“To me, this is personal,” Mr. Biden said. “You’re the heart, the soul and the spine of this nation. And the really sad thing is it takes an extraordinary act for the community to rise up and recognize what you do.”
Among those honored were Cameron Justus and William Stiltner, two sheriff’s deputies in Virginia who died while trying to save fellow officers from a sniper.
On Tuesday, during a Facebook video chat with Parents magazine, Mr. Biden made an extended pitch to Americans to “buy a shotgun” if they feel vulnerable to home intruders.
The White House Wednesday stood by Mr. Biden’s blunt talk about shotguns despite criticism from the left that it was undermining the White House push for comprehensive gun control.