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President Biden went to Norfolk, Va., for a Friendsgiving

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now - President Biden put on an apron this weekend to serve an early Thanksgiving dinner to a group of service members and their families. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez traveled with the president to Virginia for a gathering they called Friendsgiving.

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FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, HOST:

There are about 400 people sitting in a hangar at the Norfolk Naval Station. Military service is keeping them far from their families this year. It's something that the president and the first lady, Jill Biden, say they can relate to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JILL BIDEN: When our son Beau was deployed, we saw how much his children missed their daddy. And I know how many in this room are living with an empty chair at your table right now.

ORDOÑEZ: President Biden served mashed potatoes while Jill Biden dished out sweet potato casserole to go with the bourbon-brined turkey. The president asked about their hometowns and thanked them for their service.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And it's important to keep in mind, 1% of you - that's all - that protects the 99% of us - 1%. And the sacrifices you make - not just those that are in uniform but those who are not in uniform.

ORDOÑEZ: Petty Officer James Kilbane was surprised to see the president so engaged.

JAMES KILBANE: For me, it means a lot because it shows he, like, actually, like, genuinely cares about, like, what's going on with the people that are involved in, like, this whole entire thing.

ORDOÑEZ: Lily Bauer brought her 3-year-old son, Torbin. Her husband is a mechanic aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. She thinks he'll miss Christmas, too.

LILY BAUER: This will be the first Christmas that he hasn't been home for - my son is 3. So they've always been able to somehow make it before Christmas. And this year, not so much. So it's a struggle.

ORDOÑEZ: She says it helps to be with other families who understand what it's like to be without a loved one for the holidays.

BAUER: It's just nice to get with other people that are having a hard time.

ORDOÑEZ: And her son really likes the bouncy house.

TORBIN: I liked it.

BAUER: Yeah? Was it fun?

TORBIN: Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Norfolk, Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUKAI'S "AKAL KI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.