Fact Check

Biden Claimed His Uncle Was Eaten by Cannibals. Military Records Say Otherwise

President Joe Biden made remarks about his uncle, 2nd Lt. Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., also known as "Bosie," while speaking in Pittsburgh in April 2024.

Published April 18, 2024

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The body of U.S. President Joe Biden's uncle, 2nd Lt. Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., was never found during or following World War II because cannibals ate it.

On April 17, 2024, U.S. President Joe Biden was in Pittsburgh to deliver remarks about labor unions and steel manufacturing jobs. In the hours that followed, readers emailed Snopes to ask about one of Biden's comments – that his uncle, 2nd Lt. Ambrose J. Finnegan Jr., had never been found after his aircraft was shot down during World War II because of cannibals.

"Did Biden say his uncle was eaten by cannibals? I think this was on Fox News," one reader asked. "Was Biden's uncle 'Bosie' eaten by cannibals as he suggests?" another person emailed.

In short, yes he did make the comment. But official military records don't support it. 

During the speech in Pittsburgh, Biden said, "When I left Scranton today, I wanted to go to the war memorial that has the names of all of the Scrantonians who died in World War II etched into a granite wall, because I wanted to see where my uncle, uncle 'Bosie' Ambrose J. Finnegan, where his name was etched."

"Back when D-Day occurred, and on Sunday, the next day, my mother's four brothers all went down to the recruiting station and joined the military. Every one of them volunteered. And my uncle, they called him Ambrose. (inaudible) They called him 'Bosie.' My uncle 'Bosie.' He was a hell of an athlete, they told me, when he was a kid."

Then, Biden made the statement about cannibals:

"And he became an Army Air Corps before the Air Force came along. He flew those single-engine planes as reconnaissance over war zones. And he got shot down in New Guinea and they never found the body because there used to be, there are a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea."

Here's the truth: The Associated Press (AP) referenced an official record of Finnegan's death on the Department of Defense (DOD) website for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The displayed status for his remains is listed as "unaccounted for." The record says he and two other men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck of their aircraft:

On May 14, 1944, an A-20 havoc (serial number 42-86768), with a crew of three and one passenger, departed Momote Airfield, Los Negros Island, for a courier flight to Nadzab Airfield, New Guinea. For unknown reasons, this plane was forced to ditch in the ocean off the north coast of New Guinea. Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft's nose hit the water hard. Three men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash. One crew member survived and was rescued by a passing barge. An aerial search the next day found no trace of the missing aircraft or the lost crew members.

Second Lieutenant Ambrose J. Finnegan entered the U.S. Army Air Forces from Pennsylvania and served in Headquarters, Fifth Air Force. He was the passenger on this Havoc when it was lost. He has not been associated with any remains recovered from the area after the war and is still unaccounted-for. Today, Second Lieutenant Finnegan is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

Based on all information available, DPAA assessed the individual's case to be in the analytical category of Non-recoverable.

DOD describes "non-recoverable" as cases "assessed to have negligible potential for accounting, such as cases in which the remains are lost at sea, or remains of an individual were cremated and/or systematically destroyed." The assessment is "based upon historical research, scientific analysis and the limited of current technology."

The two other men lost in the same wreck were 1st Lt. Harold R. Prince and Technical Sgt. Ashford H. Cardwell.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates did not specifically mention the cannibals remark in his emailed response to Snopes. The statement read as follows:

President Biden is proud of his uncle's service in uniform, who lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea. The President highlighted his uncle's story as he made the case for honoring our "sacred commitment… to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home," and as he reiterated that the last thing American veterans are is "suckers" or "losers."

"Suckers" and "losers" was a reference to Biden's mention of a rumor involving former President Donald Trump, who purportedly once used the two words to describe fallen soldiers. Snopes published an in-depth article looking into the veracity of this claim in October 2023.

Reporters asked White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about Biden's "cannibals" comment during a gaggle aboard Air Force One on April 18. Like Bates, she described the way the record states Finnegan died, saying he "lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea." Her full answer is available for listening near the end of this YouTube video.

For further reading, the AP article published details about another error Biden made during the speech, as well as a transcript of the telegram Gen. Douglas MacArthur sent following Finnegan's death. Separately, both Tampa Bay Times and UPI previously reported on the subjects of World War II, cannibalism and New Guinea.

Note: A video of Biden's full speech is available on the C-SPAN website. The remarks relevant to this story begin at around the 20:04 mark.


"2d Lt Ambrose Finnegan's Loss." Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency via U.S. Department of Defense, https://dpaa-mil.sites.crmforce.mil/dpaaProfile?id=a0Jt000001nzWi4EAE.

"Biden Honors Uncle Who He Says Was Shot down during WWII in an Area Known to Have 'Cannibals.'" YouTube, India Today, 18 Apr. 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvNxGEGMZos.

"Cannibalism Alleged in World War II - UPI Archives." UPI, 14 Aug. 1981, https://www.upi.com/Archives/1981/08/14/Cannibalism-alleged-in-World-War-II/4422366609600/.

"Case Categorization of Unaccounted-For Personnel from Our Nation's Past Conflicts." Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency via U.S. Department of Defense, 17 Apr. 2015, dpaa-mil.sites.crmforce.mil/resource/1492727229000/CaseCategorizationMemorandum.

Ibrahim, Nur. "Did Trump Call Fallen Soldiers 'Suckers' and 'Losers'?" Snopes, 4 Oct. 2023, https://www.snopes.com//news/2023/10/04/donald-trump-call-troops-suckers-losers/.

"Japan Hears of World War II Cannibalism a Half-Century Later." Tampa Bay Times, 12 Aug. 1992, https://www.tampabay.com/archive/1992/08/12/japan-hears-of-world-war-ii-cannibalism-a-half-century-later/.

Miller, Zeke. "Biden Is off on Details of His Uncle's WWII Death as He Calls Trump Unfit to Lead the Military." The Associated Press, 17 Apr. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/biden-uncle-world-war-ii-cannibals-trump-4f3b7d1c988e041fbc07f60f952ca95f.

"President Biden Remarks on Manufacturing Jobs in Pittsburgh." C-SPAN.org, 17 Apr. 2024, https://www.c-span.org/video/?534991-1/president-biden-remarks-manufacturing-jobs-pittsburgh.

"Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Gaggle Aboard Air Force One En Route to Philadelphia, PA." YouTube, The White House, 18 Apr. 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAOUqUOcB0s.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.