SIU School of Journalism and Advertising Director Jan Thompson poses with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the White House Memorial Day Breakfast May 30, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
SIU School of Journalism and Advertising Director Jan Thompson poses with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the White House Memorial Day Breakfast May 30, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

SIU journalism director attends White House Memorial Day Breakfast

May 31, 2022

As many across the country came together over the weekend to celebrate America’s troops and veterans, President Joe Biden hosted his own White House celebration.

To commemorate Memorial Day, Biden’s staff organized a Memorial Day Breakfast at the White House directly. As a pleasant surprise, SIU’s School of Journalism and Advertising Director Jan Thompson received an invitation to the event, which she promptly accepted after fishing it out of her email spam folder.

Thompson serves as head of the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor (ADBC), which has long been dedicated to commemorating and assisting veterans who fought in those  Philippine regions in the Pacific theater of World War II.

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Her extensive experience working with veterans earned Thompson the White House invitation, an opportunity that she rushed to take advantage of.

“I mean, it was a whirlwind because I only got the invitation Saturday, because it was in my spam,” Thompson said. “Within four hours, I was on a plane to get to [Washington]. […] So it was a mad scramble to find flights and get there.”

When she arrived, Thompson took her seat at the breakfast table alongside Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. Thompson said she was impressed by the gathering of some of the most powerful members of the U.S. government in a single room, including cabinet members and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Biden spoke at the breakfast, and Thompson said she was impressed by his ability to appeal to an array of people 

“He always brings it down to the common denominator, I think, with everybody,” Thompson said. “I think he’s able to relate to a wide variety of audiences.”

Thompson said she was struck by how Biden took his time in greeting those in attendance before and after his remarks.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen politicians before, but they’ll move quickly,” Thompson said. “I’m sure you’ve watched those where they enter just before and they’re shaking hands with their constituents or people from Congress. And President Biden was not like that […]  It wasn’t like he was trying to move on. And that’s what I like in a president.”

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After the breakfast, Biden went with his wife First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He made the following statement in his address:

“Today, we renew our sacred vow. It’s a simple vow. To remember. To remember, Memorial Day is always a day where pain and pride are mixed together. We all know it, sitting here. Jill and I know it. Today is the day our son died. Folks, for those who have lost a loved one in the service of our country, if your loved one is missing or unaccounted for, I know the ceremonies reopen that black hole in the center of your chest that just pulls you in, suffocates you.”

Thompson said she believed Biden has a particular connection with Memorial day because of his late son Beau, who was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and received the Bronze Star Medal among other awards for his work in the U.S. military.

“What we later learned towards the end of the event was President Biden came in somewhat late and so everything was kind of running behind schedule,” Thompson said, “And it was because yesterday was the anniversary of his son [Beau’s] death. […] You know, what I find very striking with this president is he understands loss, and that’s what Memorial Day is all about.”

Staff reporter Ethan Braun can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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