Let me begin by saying how very pleased I am to join you this evening and to have a role in what can only be described as an extraordinary event. I am especially honored to accept the first Circle of Honor Award on behalf of the dedicated men and women who – at this very hour -- are serving on the front lines. Coming from all of you, it's especially meaningful.
More than anything else, we're here tonight to celebrate a virtue that is needed today as much as ever. I am speaking about courage – the courage that enables some people to go above and beyond the call of duty, the courage to act without regard for one's own safety, even in the face of mortal danger.
General Omar Bradley described it as "the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death."
In truth, courage is the capacity to overcome fear, not the absence of fear.
The Greek historian, Thucydides -- writing in 400 B.C. about the Peloponnesian War -- said, "They are surely to be esteemed the bravest spirits who, having the clearest sense of both the pains and pleasures of life, do not on that account shrink from danger."
That brings to mind the hundreds of firefighters and police officers who gave their lives just a few steps from here, in a daring effort to save lives in the World Trade Center. One can only marvel at the courage those brave rescue workers must have had to plunge headlong into those burning buildings.
Exceptional valor in the military is what the Medal of Honor recognizes. In the last hundred years, only 1200 individuals have received the Medal of Honor. And of those, only 139 are still living.
Among them are two U.S. Senators, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and former Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.
Senator Inouye had planned to join us this evening. But he called me yesterday to say that his tuxedo was all packed when he remembered that his wife was going into the hospital for a pre-op checkup for some knee surgery. Since the Preamble of our Constitution requires him to preserve "domestic tranquility," he thought it would be ill-advised for him to join us tonight. But he is certainly here in spirit, and I know you join in saluting both him and Senator Kerrey.
Those who did make it here tonight include several other Medal of Honor recipients who are members of what has been called "the Greatest Generation." They grew up in the Great Depression and fought in the Second World War and in Korea. It's impossible to measure the enormous impact that generation has had on our nation and on the world.
Another group with us this evening earned their medals for heroism in Vietnam. That too was a noble cause. And their service to our country must never be forgotten.
If we had the time, I would like to tell you about each and every one of those heroes, and about the extraordinary courage they displayed on the battlefields of Europe . the Pacific . and Asia.
Regrettably there isn't time to do that. But the record is available in the collected Medal of Honor citations. If you have never browsed through that volume, I encourage you to set aside some time and do that. It's a moving experience.
To give you the flavor of what you will find, let me read a few lines from the citation that described the heroism of U.S. Army Captain Jack Jacobs, who helped to organize tonight's event. In 1968, Jack was a 22-year-old 1st lieutenant serving as an assistant battalion advisor to the army of the Republic of Vietnam. The unit he was advising came under intense attack and suffered heavy casualties. The citation describes what happened next:
"Although wounded by mortar fragments, Captain Jacobs assumed command of the allied company.. Despite profuse bleeding from head wounds which impaired his vision, Capt. Jacobs, with complete disregard for his safety, returned under intense fire to evacuate a seriously wounded advisor to the safety of a wooded area where he administered lifesaving first aid. He then returned through heavy automatic weapons fire to evacuate the wounded [Vietnamese] company commander. Capt. Jacobs made repeated trips across the fire-swept open rice paddies evacuating wounded and their weapons. On three separate occasions, Capt. Jacobs [single-handedly] . drove off Viet Cong squads who were searching for allied wounded and weapons.. His gallant actions and extraordinary heroism saved the lives of one U.S. advisor and 13 allied soldiers.."
In any other gathering in America, that riveting account would stand out. And deservedly so. But in this room, it's just one example of the equally exceptional stories that could be told by the 23 Medal of Honor recipients here tonight.
I wonder if I could ask those recipients to stand right now. And would the rest of you please join me in a round of applause to express our gratitude?
Courage is still very much a defining characteristic of those who wear the uniform of the United States. You honored today's servicemen and women with your award. And I want to assure you that -- like the predecessors they admire – they are prepared to act with extraordinary courage.
In addition, they bring exceptional skill to the Armed Services. In fact, since we are here at the New York Stock Exchange – an important engine of the American economy that has produced so much innovation – it should be noted that the current generation of servicemen and women are as smart and innovative as any who have ever served this country. At the same time that they are fighting a war, they are also transforming our military to give it capabilities that will astonish future adversaries.
The whole world saw a demonstration of that spirit of innovation a decade ago in the Persian Gulf War, and we've seen it again in Afghanistan.
Thanks to advances in telecommunications, lightly armed Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan, riding on horseback, were able to call in long-range B-52s that were half a century old to make precision strikes on nearby enemy positions. Modern communications made it possible to combine 19th century horse cavalry and 20th century bombers, to produce a truly 21st century capability.
When a reporter asked Don Rumsfeld what he had in mind by introducing the horse cavalry back into modern warfare, he replied, "It's all part of our transformation plan!"
Actually, Afghanistan may have been just a small glimpse of the future. What was done with small numbers of Special Forces troops might be done with even greater impact and on a larger scale in the future.
It is true -- as we said during the Gulf War -- that smart weapons require smart soldiers. But it is even more true today, as the weapons and platforms become technically more and more complex.
But as in Afghanistan, those smart weapons are no good without courageous soldiers on the ground and brave pilots in the air. Fortunately, we have many of both.
Osama bin Laden is just the latest in a long series of tyrannical leaders who have underestimated American bravery and courage. It is said that he concluded from events in Somalia a decade ago that the United States could be defeated simply by inflicting casualties on us.
He might have drawn a different conclusion had he paid more attention to the actions of the brave Americans who fought against overwhelming odds that day in Mogadishu. The most-recent Medals of Honor were presented posthumously to two Army sergeants, Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart, who died while defending their wounded comrades, whose downed helicopter was surrounded by a large enemy force. Osama bin Laden and his kind would have done well to read their Medal of Honor citations. The one for Sergeant Shughart includes the following:
"Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position.. [He] used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew..[He] continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot's life."
Those serving in Afghanistan have been every bit as courageous. At the battle of Shah-I-Kot, when a Navy SEAL fell from a helicopter that was struck by enemy fire, rescue teams of Army Rangers and Air Force para-rescuemen rushed in. A heavy firefight ensued, in which the U.S. forces distinguished themselves by their willingness to engage a much larger, dug-in enemy force. Two of the U.S. casualties that day were posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross. A sentence from one of the citations gives an idea of it all: "From close range and from minimal cover, Sergeant Chapman engaged a well dug-in heavy machine gun position to allow his team members to take shelter and provide flanking fire." By his action, he saved the lives of the entire rescue team.
Following the battle for Mazar-e-Sharif, Special Forces Major Mark Mitchell led an operation that successfully rescued an American from the Qala-l-Jangi Fortress and ensured that the city would not fall back into Taliban hands. For "unparalleled courage under fire, decisive leadership, and personal sacrifice," Major Mitchell was awarded the Distinguished Army Cross.
Those are just a few examples of the courage with which American troops are engaging the enemy. Like those of you who served in earlier wars, the men and women who wear the uniform today are getting the job done.
And let me add that physical courage is not the only kind of bravery. There is also the moral courage of leaders both on the battlefield and in public life. Think of Winston Churchill. We know about his heroic early exploits as a soldier and war correspondent. Yet he is best remembered for the extraordinary courage with which he led Great Britain against the Nazis. For 18 long months -- between the Fall of France in May, 1940, and the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 – Britain stood alone. And that country's greatest strength was the moral courage of its great Prime Minister.
It was that same sort of courage that the first President Bush displayed when he stood up to Iraqi aggression in Kuwait, overcame political opposition, and assembled an international coalition to drive out the aggressors.
Today we are blessed with another President who leads with moral courage in the War on Terrorism. The President's resolve was seen by the entire world when he came here to Ground Zero shortly after September 11. But the real measure of his courage has been his determination to get the country and the world to understand the magnitude of the task we're facing.
Let me conclude with a few thoughts about the task that we face as a country:
As terrible as the attacks of September 11 were, we know that the terrorists are plotting still more and greater catastrophes. We know they are seeking more terrible weapons – chemical, biological, even nuclear. In the hands of terrorists, these so-called "weapons of mass destruction" should be more properly called "weapons of mass terror."
The connection between terrorist networks and states that possess these weapons of mass terror present us with the very real danger of a catastrophe that could be orders of magnitude worse than September 11.
That's why we say that Iraq's weapons of mass terror and the terror networks to which the Iraqi regime are linked are not two separate threats. They are part of the same threat. Disarming Iraq of its chemical and biological weapons and dismantling its nuclear weapons program are essential if we are going to win the War on Terror and secure the safety of the American people. And we will win this war.
And we're not alone. We're assembling a powerful coalition against Saddam Hussein. Sixteen of the nineteen NATO nations have already made clear their support for our efforts to disarm Iraq -- peacefully if possible, but by force if necessary. The President has given the United Nations an opportunity to demonstrate that it can be an effective instrument of world peace and to strengthen the authority of that international body.
But at the end of the day, he is prepared to do what he must to protect the security of the American people, and he will be able to lead a substantial coalition with him.
Nor is the President being distracted by calls to wait until the threat from Iraq is imminent. It is in the nature of terrorist threats that it's very hard to know when they're imminent. Think about it. Just when were the attacks of September 11 imminent? They were imminent on September 10. But we did not know it. What about a month earlier, in August of 2001? As a matter of fact, if we had taken military action against Afghanistan in August or July or June, it was already too late. It would have had no effect on the plotters. They were already all here in the United States. They were ready to go.
These people don't tell us when their attacks are imminent. And if someone thinks we can wait until we know, they're going to wait until it's too late. And that is unacceptable.
That's why the President is standing firm in his insistence that Iraq disarm its weapons of mass terror now. And we should all be grateful for his determination and resolve.
Those of us who are privileged to serve the American people in positions of leadership owe it to them to act in ways that will secure real peace and real freedom. The Medal of Honor recipients here tonight are a living reminder of how we need to conduct the people's business. They are a lasting inspiration, an example for all of us to follow.
The last lines of Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation -- describing the men and women who fought in the Second World War -- apply equally to all of the heroes we celebrate tonight and to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who guard us today and whom you honor with this award. He wrote: "They've had their parades. They've heard the speeches. They know what they have accomplished, and they are proud. They will have their . memorial and their place in the ledgers of history, but no block of marble or elaborate edifice can equal their lives of sacrifice and achievement, duty and honor, as monuments to their time."
Thank you. May God bless our heroes. And may God bless America!