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(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday honored 15 cops and 3 firefighters for extraordinary courage under fire.

“To me, this is personal. To me you are…the spine of the country,” Biden told the recipients of the Medal of Valor, the nation’s highest award for public safety officers, and their families.  

“You are the heartbeat, the soul, the spine of the nation,” he said.

An emotional Biden spoke to the widows of the four medal recipients who paid the ultimate sacrifice, each killed in a hail of gunfire.

“Unfortunately, we have a shared experience. I lost a spouse, I lost a daughter,” Biden said, referring to his first wife and one-year-old daughter, killed in a car accident in 1972.   

“I know this is an incredibly bittersweet moment for you,” he continued. “In every one of these occasions, you relive the moment you got the call. You all have a lot more courage than I had some years ago.”

“The talk about firefighters and police officers being a family, it’s real, it’s real,” he reassured the survivors.

The vice president’s tribute to the heroism of the awardees and their families – in the face of threats from gun violence – comes one day after he encouraged ownership of shotguns by those who desired extra protection.

“If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barreled shotgun,” Biden told a questioner during a Facebook town hall on Tuesday. “I promise you, as I told my wife, we live in an area that’s wooded and somewhat secluded. I said, Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out, put [up] that double-barreled shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the remark Wednesday, saying it is consistent with the administration’s support for Second Amendment gun rights.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


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