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Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld at Lone Sailor Award Ceremony (Transcript)
Transcript of Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation Washington, D.C., Friday, May 03, 2002

Secretary Rumsfeld: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. It is good to be with you.

Admiral,[William Crowe] thank you so much for those generous words. Admiral [Hank] McKinney. I thank all the members of the Navy Memorial Foundation.

I do have to confess that when the Vice President [Richard Cheney] was in the process of helping the President [George W. Bush] swear me in he introduced me and said "We're bringing him back hoping he'll get it right this time." [Laughter] So your remarks were right on the mark.

I was interested to hear some of the foundation and congratulate you for it. I think you said that the homecoming version, is that the one with the sea bag beside it?

Voice: No, sir. It's the one with the sailor meeting his wife.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Oh yes, fair enough. I think you said it was Seattle, Norfolk and San Diego?

Voice: Yes, sir.

Secretary Rumsfeld: I've lived in all three of those cities, partly because of my father being in the Navy and partly my duty.

A special good evening to my friend Pat Moynihan. You are a long time friend and a recipient of the award, as I understand it, who served our country as a seaman, I think.

Is that right?

Senator Moynihan: I made it to ensign, sir. [Laughter]

Secretary Rumsfeld: Did you really? [Laughter] My gosh. I thought they had higher standards back in those days. [Laughter] My goodness, gracious. [Laughter and Applause]

Pat served the country in so many ways over so many administrations with great dedication and patriotism, to be sure. But even more with brilliance and courage as well.

I even have some Moynihan/Rumsfeld Rules in my Rumsfeld Rules. Are there any congressmen or senators here? [No audible response] Then I can say what's commonly said about Pat Moynihan. [Laughter] I can tell you what's commonly said about -- a former congressman, I can probably get away with it.

The word is that Pat Moynihan has written more books than the other members of the Senate have read. [Laughter] I don't know that it's true and I didn't say it, but I heard someone said it. [Laughter]

I don't think I'd be standing here if it weren't for Pat

Moynihan. He's one of the ones who talked the President into asking me to come out of the Congress and become Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, if my memory serves me correctly. I sure took care of the war on poverty, didn't I? [Laughter]

My friend Paul Nitze's up there, and it's good to see you, sir. You are a long-time friend and I must say that -- [Applause]. I can say for sure Paul's the only one in the room who arrived in Washington before I did. [Laughter]

I arrived in 1957 and Paul I think came in the '40s down from New York. I've been here off and on for 45 years, and Paul's been here off and on for I think 55 years. Besides serving as Secretary of the Navy of course he contributed and helped implement some of our country's most important national security policies.

Interestingly, he was -- When I was asked by President Ford to serve as Secretary of Defense for a variety of reasons, I felt that it was something I wanted to think very carefully about before agreeing to. I had a friend who was serving as Secretary of Defense at the time who I thought very well of, and I said to President Ford, I'd like to call one person and talk to them about this. He said who's that? I said Paul Nitze. And he said fair enough, and I did. I consulted with that gentleman.

Years later I was reading a biography of James Forrestal and in the biography it said that in the 1940s Forrestal was serving in the Roosevelt White House and President Roosevelt asked James Forrestal to go over to the Department of the Navy. And Forestal said he wanted to call somebody and he called his friend from Dillon Reed, Paul Nitze. So you can see that he's been advising Secretaries of Defense from the first to the most recent and I think all in between. [Applause]

The Lone Sailor Award is a particular honor for a broken down ex-Navy pilot and the son of a Navy man to boot. From time to time [inaudible] see some of the planes that I used to fly when I was in the Navy. It's a little embarrassing that they're all in museums. Every single one. [Laughter]

My father was on a carrier on the Pacific during World War II. It was a baby flat top, CD-97, the USS Hollandia. On his return to civilian life after the war he like I suppose any of you here who served in World War II received a letter from Paul Nitze's friend, James Forrestal, who later became of course the first Secretary of Defense. I found the letter to my father folded up in his papers after he died back in 1974. It hangs in my office in the Pentagon today. It was addressed to him, but it was clearly a duplicate that had been sent to literally hundreds of people who served in World War II in the Navy.

His letter read, "My dear Mr. George Rumsfeld, I have addressed this letter to reach you after all of the formalities of your separation from active service are completed. I've done so because without formality but as clearly as I know how to say it, I want Navy's pride in you which it is my privilege to express, to reach into your civil life and to remain with you always. You have served in the greatest Navy in the world," as the Admiral just said. "It crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving their surrenders only four months apart. It brought our land-based air power within bombing range of the enemy and set our ground armies on the beachheads of final victory. No other Navy at any time has done so much. For your part in these achievements you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The nation you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude. Sincerely yours, James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy." Quite a letter.

I remember somewhat later, after my father left the Navy, people would say how in the world could somebody, an old man because he was I think 40, well past draft age, he had a wife and kids, how could an old man 40 years old when he volunteered, with a wife and two children, who had never served in the military, was working in Chicago a long way from the ocean, was managing apartment houses, in effect. And within a matter of months become the Officer of the Deck of an aircraft carrier underway in a war? How in the world does that happen?

My dad's answer very simply was, chief petty officers. [Laughter]

So with all due respect to the admirals here -- [Laughter] -- and the ensigns. [Laughter] The truth is that all of those were needed, admirals and recruits, but it was and often is today the petty officers and the lone sailors who lead the newcomers. They lead down, to be sure, but they also lead up. They lead up in the sense that they led these new officers, the civilians in uniform, men with literally no experience in the military whatsoever, they were called 90 day wonders. They went to Quonset Point, some of them, and came out as naval officers, and good ones.

You all know the story about the captain that got his battle ship and he was so proud and he was steaming around in the ocean and just tickled pink with himself, and saw something up ahead and the man on the bridge said, "What should we do about that?" He said, "Signal that ship to bear starboard." The signalman signaled it to bear starboard. Back came the signal, "Bear starboard yourself." He said this is ridiculous.

He said, signal him again, tell him, "Bear starboard immediately." And of course back came the signal, and the sailor next to him looked at him and he said, "The signal that came back was "Bear starboard yourself. I am a lighthouse." [Laughter] That was the lone sailor who told him that.

You know in World War II it was mentioned earlier, there were suicide pilots flying their aircraft into our ships. Today a new enemy is seeking global power and has flown our own airliners into our buildings on suicide missions, working to, and they're working today as we know, to gain access to weapons of mass destruction. Not long after Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, the U.S. Navy replied with a stunning bombing raid on Tokyo led by I believe Colonel Jimmy Doolittle off the USS Hornet. Truth be told, I've been around so long I knew Jimmy Doolittle. [Laughter]

But shortly after September 11th the United States Navy launched aircraft off of carriers in the Arabian Sea and with coalition forces have helped to deal a hard blow to the enemy in one of the truly most remote places on earth. It's a landlocked country thousands of miles from here. U.S. ships unleashed missiles that shocked the Taliban and the al Qaeda and marked the beginning of the end for that brutal regime. Today the Navy is on duty all around the world in the global war on terror.

I understand that Herman Wouk was the first recipient of the Lone Sailor Award, or one of the early ones. In his novel, The Winds of War, Wouk wrote of his fictional character that he "found inner strength when walking the ship at night ... The broad, dark ocean, the steaming pure air, the crowded stars arching overhead made him feel what the Bible calls the spirit of God." He felt a cause greater than himself.

And I can recall as a midshipman back in 1950 and '51 and '52 and '53, going forward on a battleship after dinner in the dark and looking at the enormous vessel, three football fields long, plowing through the water and seeing the, I don't know why it happens but the light gets caught in the bow wave and it's quite a sight. And certainly Mr. Wouk had it right.

I also remember back in 1951 when I was a midshipman we'd been in Europe in a battleship and we came back to the United States and we were supposed to make a port call in New York City. And the battleship pulled into the, kind of the Hudson River and moored there, and we all went ashore and we came back and we went to sleep, and sure enough when we got up in the morning it was quite noisy. It turned out that the battleship had pulled mooring and settled on the New Jersey shore. [Laughter]

It was not a proud moment, even for a midshipman. You can imagine how the captain felt. [Laughter]

So I went up on deck and I watched what was going on and here were about 10, 12, 14 of these tugboats were just one at a time bashing into the side of the dadburned ship and bouncing off and nothing happened. It was just stuck solid. One tug after another bounced into it and another one bounced into it. Pretty soon someone came up on deck and they told all those tugs and they stopped them and all snub your nose up against there and all push at once. And sure enough, it was free.

Joyce and I were having dinner with Admiral [Elmo] Zumwalt one night at the Naval Observatory before the Vice President took it away. [Laughter]

I told him that story, and I said you know, I tell people that story because it says a lot. It says that if people work together a great deal can be accomplished, but if you're all tugging in different directions not much can be achieved. I said do you know anything about it? It must be right. He said, "Don, I was aboard that ship." [Laughter] I said really? What was your job? He said I was the navigator. [Laughter].

So I said how in the world did you ever get to be an admiral? [Laughter] Who do you know? I was a young congressman at the time. [Laughter]

He explained that he had protested mooring, repeatedly, told the Navy Department we're not going to do this, this is the wrong thing to do. They said look, you do it, park it right where we told you, so he did and sure enough he was right, they were wrong. I said well is the way I told it roughly right? He said absolutely. There's one thing you didn't know. I said what was that? He said the tide came up. [Laughter]

So it took a little help from the Lord, too. [Laughter]

The great cause of the United States Navy is the cause of freedom. And tonight lone sailors are all across the globe defending our country, defending our families and our freedom. I know that probably an enormous number of the people here, some are today defending it and others have in the past. I thank you and I thank all the men and women all across the globe -- Americans and coalition partners. Lone sailors to be sure. For voluntarily putting their lives at risk.

Thank you very much. [Applause]

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