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Tribute to Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , The Pentagon Washington, DC, Wednesday, April 21, 1999

Senator [William] Roth; Ambassador [to Germany, John] Kornblum; Deputy Secretary [John] Hamre; Generals [Eric] Shinseki [US Army], [Lt. General Ralph E.] Eberhart [USAF], and [Lt. General Terrence] Dake [USMC]; members of the armed forces; ladies and gentlemen. First of all, let me thank you for joining us this morning to pay a brief tribute to an enduring figure who, in so many ways, is regarded as one of the most consequential leaders of our time. A man that all of you know who yesterday President Clinton paid tribute to by awarding the Medal of Freedom.

For the past five weeks, the forces of the NATO Alliance have been standing up to the brutal repression in Kosovo. And for first time in nearly a century, United States and German forces are standing together in a conflict as brothers-in-arms. That the nations of NATO remain united is a testament to our shared values. That our two nations remain undaunted, and that our forces serve so well together, is a testament to our shared vision. Few in this century have done more to advocate and advance those values and that vision than the leader we honor today.

In the shorthand of history, Chancellor Helmut Kohl will be remembered as the leader who reunited a Germany once thought to be permanently divided; the leader with the wisdom to find the perfect moment for the boldest of moves; and the leader with the will to forge ahead for the sake of Germany’s future.

But the legacy of Helmut Kohl will be the larger dream he fulfilled -- to build, not a Fortress Europe, but a Europe that, in his own words, would be a "weather-proof house:" a home where Europeans would be secure from the cruel winds of conflict; a home where Americans would have a permanent welcome. Indeed, Germany as a nation is a true friend of America today, in large part because Helmut Kohl as an individual has been a true friend of America.

So it is fitting indeed, on this 50th anniversary of NATO, that we should honor one of its greatest champions. Because if you were to line up the leaders who have been stalwarts of Europe and loyal friends of America, two figures would stand as the bookends of this era of NATO: Winston S. Churchill, the man who first warned the world of the Iron Curtain; and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the man who hastened its demise. Both men, like so many prophets, were regarded in their youth as improbable leaders. Both men, like so many legends, went on to accomplish what were regarded as impossible feats.

With Chancellor Kohl, we share a mutual affection grounded in years of goodwill and generosity. In fact, one of Chancellor Kohl’s most vivid memories of Americans comes from his childhood in the aftermath of World War II. It is the image of American soldiers coming through the post-war rubble of Germany’s villages and towns to deliver CARE packages. To this day, he says, "I have never forgotten that."

We are here today, Chancellor Kohl, because we have never forgotten, and we never want the American people to forget, your integrity and your determination to build a future of peace and goodwill. And in a sense, his legacy follows in the steps of a role model who is remembered in the churches of Germany on this very day, Saint Conrad. An ordinary man who displayed an extraordinary devotion to his sole calling, St. Conrad touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of Europeans. He was a doorkeeper, who, day in and day out for 40 years, welcomed thousands of pilgrims to shelter at the end of their long journey.

Today, at a time when homes are being burned and the doors of nations are being shut, we honor Helmut Kohl for building a Europe that is a stable and prosperous home for millions,

and for keeping the door open, for his fellow countrymen in the East, for the people of America, and for all those in search of a future in peace. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in paying tribute to one of the truly outstanding men of our time, Chancellor Helmut Kohl.