President Thanks Veterans For Service During Inaugural Ball
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2005 President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were greeted with resounding cheers as they made the first stop of their whirlwind tour of inaugural galas Jan. 20 at the Capital Hilton here.
Kenneth Stumpf, an Army squad leader in Vietnam who was
awarded the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart, pledges allegiance to the flag
at the "Salute to Heroes" inaugural ball at the Capital Hilton in Washington,
D.C., Jan. 20. Stumpf said the Medal of Honor belongs to all of those in his
squad. "I did not earn this (medal) alone," he said. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class
Doug Sample, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At the "Salute to Heroes" inaugural ball, hundreds of veterans from across the country, along with their wives and families, greeted the president with a resounding show of support.
Vice President Richard Cheney and his wife, Lynne, stopped in later as they made their way through the inaugural circuit.
Kenneth Stumpf, one of many Medal of Honor recipients who squeezed through tight security inside the hotel to see the president, was particularly happy to be on hand. "I spent my entire life in the military, so whoever was the president, that was my commander-in-chief," he said. "It just so happens I really like this one."
The American Legion sponsors the ball, which recognizes recipients of Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. It started in 1953 for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's first inauguration.
Event co-sponsors include 13 other veterans service organizations, among them the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
With applause and cheers often interrupting his comments, the president used his brief appearance to thank veterans for their service.
"They have set a fantastic example for those who wear the uniform today," he said. "Our veterans who have served all across the world in the cause of freedom, they have done so in a selfless way and for that, this nation is eternally grateful."
The president also used the occasion to reiterate points made during his inaugural address, speaking on the importance of freedom and saying that United States will succeed in bringing democracy to Iraq.
"We believe in freedom, and we know that free societies will be peaceful societies," the president said.
He also said that by ending tyranny, such as that imposed in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, the United States "Will have fulfilled the obligations of our founding fathers who recognized that every man and woman on the face of the earth should be free."
With the Joints Chiefs of Staff seated on each side of the podium, the president acknowledged the difficulties being placed on the military. "We've asked hard things of our troops and the families of our troops," he said. But he noted the progress made in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Think about what has happened in a very short period of time," he said. "The people of Afghanistan have been liberated by our troops and our friends the Afghans went to the polls by the millions for the first time in 5,000 years," he said. "Very shortly, because of the great work of our military, and the military of our friends, the people of Iraq will be voting. This is a major achievement, and it's a major milestone in the advance of liberty."
The president admitted that bringing liberty to Iraq "has not been easy," but "it's going to happen," he emphasized.
"And when it does, our military, and those of us who have been fortunate enough to be involved with our military, will be able to look back and say we did our duty, we did our duty for freedom, and we did our duty for generations of Americans to come."
Before leaving, the president again expressed thanks to the audience, telling those veterans who have served and those who are now serving, "I am incredibly proud to be your commander in chief."
Outside the ballroom, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston was enjoying the night's events and said the president's inaugural address and the theme of the "Salute to Heroes" ball gave recognition to the men and women who wear the uniform.
"Being an Army at war and supporting a nation at war," he said, "it's important that we recognize our heroes (and) that we pause for a moment and reflect on their courage, their sacrifice and their dedication. I very am proud of what the men and women of the armed forces are accomplishing, and what they stand for in this country."