Valenti's Tribute to the Heroes of Freedom
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Dec. 4, 2000 Jack Valenti, Hollywood's film industry leader, has a deep-rooted respect for the men and women who serve their country. In his mind, the phrase "duty, honor, country" remains the hallmark of freedom.
Navy and Air Force members escort Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, upon his arrival at a military concert in his honor in Beverly Hills, Calif. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. (right) applauds. Valenti received DoD's first Citizen Patriot Award from Defense Secretary William Cohen Nov. 30 in recognition of his World War II service and his efforts to promote a positive military image within the film industry. Air Force Photo by Lou Hernandez.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Valenti, president and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, is a World War II veteran. He flew 51 combat missions as an Army B-25 bomber pilot in Italy and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Air Medals and two Distinguished Unit Citations.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen presented Valenti the first DoD Citizen Patriot Award Nov. 30 at a military concert at the Beverly Hilton Hotel here. The award recognized Valenti for his World War II service and his professional efforts to perpetuate the positive image of the military on and off screen.
Cohen established the award this year to acknowledge outstanding efforts on behalf of America's men and women in uniform, including efforts to identify and bring to public attention the contributions of American troops at home and abroad.
In presenting the DoD award, Cohen salute Valenti as a "proud patriot" and a man of "mighty heart" who has been a strong advocate of the men and women in the military.
"This award is not for me," the white-haired, elegantly dressed industry leader said after accepting the award. "It's for the entire motion picture industry, the men and women … who've created this extraordinary enterprise which beguiles the entire world."
In a moving address, he then spoke about World War II and his regard for the armed forces:
"Tonight, I feel real emotional," Valenti told the audience. "I'm dredging up memories that, frankly, I've had locked inside of me for so long and so deep that I didn't even know they were there.
"As my family knows, I never talk about the war. It was a thousand years ago. Yet, tonight, it's been like seeing a home movie that was filmed many, many years ago and then you watch it again.
"Suddenly, I see myself so very, very young. Like a couple of million other young boys, I went to war willingly. As these memories roll over me tonight, I can remember my fellow pilots in our B-25 squadron and the pride that we felt that our squadron never turned back on a mission.
"No matter how cruel the anti-aircraft fire, guns manned by Nazi assassins who fired at us almost point blank, so low did we fly. Nor did we turn back because of the ferocity of the German fighter pilots in their Me-109s, so deadly and so bloody tenacious.
"We did what we were instructed to do though we were frightened beyond all comprehension. And well we might have been because death was a constant companion. Yet we flew the mission and we destroyed the target and we suffered casualties -- sometimes heavy.
"The question I used to ask myself: 'Why is it that ordinary young boys, scared out of their minds, never flinched, never faltered.'
"The Army Air Corps taught us and taught us well. We learned to be professional warriors. We learned and practiced all kinds of emergency procedures. And frankly, we were prepared to die as we flew through a curtain of fire. The question is, 'Why did we do that?'
"The answer that has come to me, that I've never even discussed with my family: We did this because we were doing our duty to our country.
"God, that sounds corny, doesn't it? If I was at a dinner party in New York or Washington or Los Angeles, and I said I was doing my duty to my country, people would laugh at me.
"Duty is a coin that's been debased. Too many of our leaders have treated it casually. Let me tell you something, duty to one's country is a sturdy phrase. It's a sustaining phrase. It's worthy to be valued. If this country ever lets it decay or abandons it, then we are truly, as a people, enfeebled.
"That's why I wanted to take my children to Omaha Beach -- that Steven Spielberg so graphically, so passionately displayed (in "Saving Private Ryan") -- and let them look down on that sand at the water's edge where, in my mind's eye, it's still running red with the blood that was deposited there many years ago.
"And I wanted to take them up on the bluff above the beach on land deeded to the United States by France for the American cemetery. My children and I gazed out over this freshly manicured grass, to all these marble crosses and Stars of David, marching in serried ranks. Endless row upon row upon row. Simple headstones that marked the final resting place of 9,386 Americans, more than 70 percent of whom were between the ages of 18 and 23.
"On each headstone is etched the bland finality of a youngster's life -- his name, his rank, his outfit and the day he died. A brief epilogue of a life that ended before it had really begun.
"I dare any American to gaze on that vast outdoor cathedral of the young and the brave and not weep. I remember the first time I went there with my family. I ran ahead of them. I couldn't contain my sobbing. Again, Steven showed that scene. It's a real scene. I just couldn't stop crying.
"I wanted my children to understand the stark reality that the freedom that they took for granted as if it were their just due is a gift to them, a gift bought and paid for in blood and bravery by young boys who died so that generations of Americans yet unborn could enjoy uninterrupted the ornaments and the essentials of this free and loving land.
"I hope all of us in this room tonight and across the vast expanse of this republic, honor and celebrate all the men and women who serve our armed forces. And never to forget these young boys who died to preserve, protect and defend this country and all who live in it.
"Bill, I'm so grateful to you on behalf of the movie industry. This is a significant and profound honor that you would have this first Citizen Patriot Award go to the movie industry. As their humble servant and representative, I'm humbled to accept it. I thank you very much."