This Day In History: December 18

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Just weeks after being elected the junior senator from Delaware, Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, are killed in a car accident while out shopping for a Christmas tree on December 18, 1972, when a tractor-trailer strikes their vehicle. 

The Bidens’ sons, Beau and Hunter, were also in the car and survived with serious injuries. At the time, Beau was 4 years old and suffered multiple broken bones, while Hunter, who was 3, had a fractured skull. Investigations revealed the tractor-trailer broadsided Neilia Biden’s Chevrolet station wagon at a rural intersection in Hockessin, Delaware. Neither driver was found to be at fault for the collision. 

The future president, who had recently turned 30, learned of the tragedy while interviewing staff in Washington, D.C. After considering resigning, he ultimately chose to remain in office, and, on January 5, 1973, was sworn in as senator from his sons’ hospital room in Wilmington, Delaware. Throughout his lengthy Senate career, Biden commuted daily from Wilmington to the U.S. Capitol to kiss the boys good morning and goodnight.    

“Many people have gone through things like that,” Biden said during a 2015 Yale University commencement speech. “But because I had the incredible good fortune of an extended family, grounded in love and loyalty, imbued with a sense of obligation imparted to each of us, I not only got help. But by focusing on my sons, I found my redemption.”

Neilia, who married Biden in 1966 and played a key role in his campaigns, was honored five years after her death with the dedication of the The Neilia Hunter Biden Park outside the city of Wilmington. 

Biden later married Jill Biden in 1977, who became first lady when he assumed the presidency in 2021. The couple have a daughter, Ashley. Beau Biden, a rising political figure himself, died from a brain tumor at the age of 46 in 2015.  

In her 2019 memoir, Jill Biden wrote of the family’s annual visits to the cemetery where Neilia and Naomi are buried. “I owed her so much: my loyalty, my gratitude for the gift of these beautiful boys, and, yes, my love,” she wrote.

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