Secretary Perry, Lee, and the Perry Family; Secretary [of Veterans’ Affairs, Togo] West and Mrs. West; [Former] Secretary [of Defense, Frank] Carlucci; Secretary [of the Army, Louis] Caldera; Military and civilian leaders, present and past; Deputy Secretaries [of State, Strobe] Talbott and [of Defense, John] Hamre; Janet; Ladies and gentlemen. To paraphrase President Kennedy who referred to Thomas Jefferson, there hasn’t been this much Pentagon experience in one room since Doc Cooke dined alone. [Laughter.]
Winston Churchill, when faced with a overflowing crowd, he remarked, "I’m humbled by the realization that it would be twice as large if this were the occasion of my hanging." [Laughter.] To which I would add, given the size and stature of this particular crowd today, we are going to witness the hanging of a Secretary of Defense. [Laughter.]
A little over fifty years ago, a young American soldier from Butler, Pennsylvania landed with his engineering company in post-War Okinawa. Before him he saw a scene of death and devastation: towns leveled, land stripped of vegetation, people living in caves. Amid the rubble and ruin, nearly 160,000 had perished in a war that claimed millions.
Like many of his comrades, this searing experience instilled in that soldier a profound and passionate belief: that to ensure that the past would not be prologue, America must remain strong and engaged as a force for peace. But like few of his fellow GI’s, Sergeant William Perry went on to become one the great architects of that engagement. And so today we are gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of a man whom I regard as one of the most able public servants ever to have served this nation. He is a man who saw the waste of war from ground-zero, and rose to bring peace and stability to this nation and the world.
When his service in uniform was over, Bill traded in the olive drab of the Army for the rarified robes of academia, becoming Doctor Perry, and setting out for a life in mathematics.
Yet this brilliant man of numbers became a consummate man of people. Indeed, even before he became Secretary Perry he had touched the lives of students, all the way from Penn State to Stanford, through his teaching. He mentored a generation of entrepreneurs, from coast to coast, through his expertise and his vision. And, most notably, he saved the lives of our troops, from the Gulf War to those I visited with just last week in the Balkans, through the technology he fathered.
So today, we are going to unveil a remembrance of his days when his hand was at the helm of this great Department. But I should forewarn you that the stillness of a portrait can never fully capture the essence of Bill Perry. He is a leader defined by the ceaseless movement, energy, and action of his life and work. In his time here, I am reluctant to say this, he traveled over three-quarters of a million miles, visiting 67 countries. That is something that I don’t envy or try to surpass [laughter] and the equivalent of more than thirty trips around the globe. He used what we would call a strategic personal diplomacy, forging relationships with his foreign counter-parts that have rewarded America time and time again.
Indeed, whether he was crossing a pontoon bridge over the Sava River with the first wave of troops going into Bosnia, concluding negotiations on Bosnia with his Russian counterpart, the defense minister on a flight to Kansas, or enduring what I would call the culinary pleasure of Rendered Manchurian Toad Fat [laughter] on a diplomatic mission to China, Bill Perry never stopped moving, and moving America forward.
It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but all of that movement, that rush of energy and activity, was really driven by the search for stability for America and the world. Bill Perry faced the challenge of shaping a world newly reborn from the icy twilight of the Cold War. And as it thawed, he seized that moment to mold a future of stability, peace, and prosperity: containing a dictator in Baghdad, bringing the Americas together in Williamsburg, ending the brutality in Sarajevo, enabling a partnership for peace in capitals and training fields throughout Eurasia. And, I would add, even today, even today, working to bring peace and security to the Korean Peninsula.
In the shorthand of history, Bill Perry may best be known most for pushing back the nuclear threat that had once hung so heavily and ominously over our heads. And as he watched on a windswept Ukrainian steppe, a silo once poised to launch destruction on all of us, was itself destroyed. And through his deft diplomacy, that nation, and two others, became the first ever to step back from the nuclear abyss. And that, ladies and gentleman, is an achievement that will benefit the world for generations to come.
Yet the most passionate commitment of this man of the people was for the welfare of our men and women in uniform. Perhaps because he was once one of them, he focused like few before on the people of our military, making their quality of life his top priority. Better housing, better pay, more support in a time of fewer forces and more missions; what he called the "iron logic" between quality of life and readiness. And as he passed through these halls for the final time as Secretary, an enlisted leader paid him, I think, the highest tribute, when he said, "I can think of no one person who has made a bigger, more significant impact on improving the lives of enlisted people than Dr. Perry."
It might be said, I should say, that Bill Perry’s greatest triumph of all really occurred back in Butler, Pennsylvania, when a young musician in a local swing band wooed its talented singer. [Laughter.] Indeed, the life-long partnership of Bill and Lee Perry was not only their good fortune, it was a wonderful and inspiring gift to our military men and women, in whose interest Lee has worked so tirelessly. Lee, we pay tribute to you and honor you today as well. [Applause.]
Ladies and gentleman, the man that we honor today has been a public servant, as I have indicated, of the very highest order. Soldier. Statesman. Citizen. I believe that Bill Perry is the antidote to the cynicism that so often is aimed at people in public life. Defined by modesty, quiet effectiveness, and the deepest caring for the people entrusted to him, he has been a brilliant, strategic calm at the eye of the storm. As the Prophet Isiaih said, "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." For America, it was Bill Perry’s quiet confidence that was our strength, and for that we are eternally grateful. [Applause.]