(SIOUX FALLS, S.D.) — With 12 days left before election day, Vice President Joe Biden joined hundreds gathered at the First United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Thursday to pay respect to the late Sen. George McGovern.
“Several of you said, ‘How could you be here in the middle of a campaign?’ Where I come from you ask, ‘How could you not be here for someone who’s done so much?’” Biden said.
Biden served alongside McGovern in the U.S. Senate from 1972 to 1980 and credited McGovern for inspiring him to run for his senate seat at the age of 29.
“I admired him from the day I became aware of him through the day he died,” Biden said.
The vice president recounted how McGovern displayed courage when he pushed for the end of the war in Vietnam, and shared a portion of a speech McGovern gave expressing his opposition to the war, during which he said “this chamber reeks of blood” — a speech Biden said “what incredible political courage and gumption it took to make that speech before the Senate.”
“He said, ‘I’m fed up to my ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in,’” Biden said. “He not only spoke for our generation…He spoke for our soul, and I still feel the same way.”
McGovern was at the top of the Democratic ticket in 1972 — the same year Biden was first elected as a senator — but McGovern faced a defeat against Richard Nixon.
“Your father gave courage to people who didn’t have the courage to speak up,” Biden said. “Because he took such a miserable beating, he didn’t win the election but he ended the war…. He transformed my party…. He is the father of the modern Democratic Party.”
Biden relayed to the congregation that McGovern’s grandson, Matt, told him McGovern was able to watch the vice president’s debate against Rep. Paul Ryan earlier this month, and upon the debate’s completion, McGovern told his grandson, “I want to call Joe.”
At one point, Biden noted that he was one of the longest serving senators, pointing out that there are only 13 other senators who served longer than the vice president did.
“Ain’t that a hell of an indictment,” Biden said as the audience laughed. When he realized he said “hell” while standing on the altar of the church, Biden turned around and said, “Excuse me,” to the priest sitting behind him and proceeded to do the sign of the cross while people laughed.
The vice president concluded his more than 25-minute speech by giving McGovern what he described as an Irishman’s greatest compliment.
“George McGovern was a good and decent man,” he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio