SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In a stirring tribute Thursday to former Sen. George McGovern, Vice President Joe Biden hailed the one-time presidential nominee as the "father of the modern Democratic Party" for his forceful stand against the Vietnam War and for helping open the party to more women, young people and minorities.
Biden's 25-minute reflection capped a day of remembrance to the South Dakota icon, who carried his antiwar sentiment to his party's nomination in a 1972 race he would lose in a historic landslide to Republican President Richard Nixon.
Despite the loss, Biden said McGovern summoned public restlessness with the war and helped bring about its end before "so much more blood and so much more treasure would have been wasted."
"The war would never have ended when it did. It would never have ended how it did," Biden said, his voice rising as he turned his body toward McGovern's daughters. "Your father gave courage to people who didn't have the courage to speak up to finally stand up. Your father stood there and took all of that beating."
A larger funeral service for McGovern, who died Sunday at age 90, is set for today.
The Thursday evening ceremony featured heartfelt tributes to a crowd of hundreds by McGovern family members, longtime friends and political loyalists.
Mourners from near and far spent the afternoon filing past a flag-draped coffin, many drawing attention to his lifelong efforts to fight global hunger.
Biden led a cast of dignitaries. But many who showed up early at the First United Methodist Church were friends, neighbors, constituents or admirers.
Among them was Burton Barnard, 68, from western Wisconsin. After driving 300 miles, he was toward the front of the line when the church opened for a four-hour viewing period.
"There's not that many people I would drive that far for," Barnard said. "McGovern was a deeply moral and principled leader for us in the 60s and 70s."