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The Pentagon Pops "The Hero of the Century: The American GI And the Military Family"
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Constitution Hall, Washington, D.C., Monday, February 21, 2000

Thank you very much, Janet [Cohen]. I’m so glad that you gave that speech that I wrote so very well. [Laughter.] She has taken everything that I was going to say this evening and said it better than I could possibly attempt to do. Nevertheless, that will not prevent me from trying.

Janet, let me add to so many who have expressed their deep gratitude to you for making this evening possible, as well as devoting the last three years of your life with me to helping make the forces and the families feel so very welcome, and helping to express our gratitude to all the men and women who are serving us. You have done an outstanding job, and I think everybody in the country appreciates the kind of service and sacrifice you have made for the past three years. [Applause.]

I’d like to acknowledge Senators [Daniel] Inouye and [Chuck] Hagel and Senator [John] Glenn and Annie [Glenn] and Congressman and Mrs. [John] LaFalce, Congressman and Mrs. [Bill] Young.

We have, of course, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General [Hugh] and Carolyn Shelton; Members of the Joint Chiefs who are here, General and Mrs. [Ric] Shinseki Chief of Staff, U.S. Army], General Mike Ryan [Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force] and Mrs. Ryan; General [Terence] Dake [Assistant Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps] and Mrs. Dake

I’d like also to pay tribute to our heroes, members of the Armed Forces, both past and present, and our distinguished guests, including the recipients of the Medal of Honor. I’d like to say that we have at least sixty or more of those recipients who are here tonight and that’s perhaps even double what we had last year. Perhaps next year we’ll have double that number, but thank you very much for being here. [Applause.] We have as well the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, and we’ll be seeing more of them this evening.

And I’d like to pay a special word of tribute to NSC [National Security Council] Advisor [Sandy] and Mrs. Berger. Sandy, if we can have the light placed on you for a moment. I’d like to take this occasion to thank you for the sixteen to seventeen to eighteen hours a day that you put in on a routine basis that people don’t see. The Chairman and I, the Secretary of State see this, Susan [Berger] sees this. But I want you to know that we could not have the force that we have or the policies that we have without your hard work, dedication and personal sacrifice. So thank you for being here. [Applause.]

 

And I’d like to have the chance to make a special mention this evening to "Downtown" Julie Brown of MTV fame. She has been the dynamic Master of Ceremonies during our most recent tour with the USO for our forces in Europe. "Downtown" Julie Brown, thank you for being here this evening. [Applause.]

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for joining us for this evening of song and celebration.

As you may recall, last year after we finished our holiday tour in the Persian Gulf, Janet and I were on our way back and said, "Why can’t we do something for all of our men and women in uniform? Why can’t we have a celebration to for all of them?" And that, of course, was the birth of the Pentagon Pops. And we are just delighted to welcome all of you to the second annual Pentagon Pops, which we hope will continue well in to the future.

You are the true guardians of our freedom, the heroes that we celebrate tonight. We are paying tribute to those whose ingenuity, patriotism and valor during the most defining moments of the 20th Century quite literally changed the entire course of history. These are individuals whose resolve, patience and vigilance through wars that were cold and hot preserved peace the world over, and they helped to fulfill our nation’s destiny. The heroes of our country, of our century, the last and this one we’re moving in to: the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, active, guard and reserve -- the American GIs.

They are remarkable men and women who, in Churchill’s words, "possess an Olympian fortitude and inflexible faith and purpose." They have been unwilling, as Stephen Ambrose will tell you, to live in a world in which evil triumphs. And, as a result, the flag of freedom flies not only over America, but over those countries whose people had to yield to the terror of tyranny and under the heel of boots of dictators. These heroes have kept the flame of freedom alive, and they are a true reflection of the American spirit.

And of course, I suspect that they will be the first to come up here and say, "We didn’t do it alone. We did not carry out this mission by ourselves. But rather, we have been strengthened and sustained by largely unsung heroes" that Janet mentioned: the husbands and the wives, the mothers and the fathers, the sons and the daughters who have endured countless separations and untold hardships for a cause greater than themselves.

Now it’s been said that you can’t really deal with the most serious issues in our lives if you are unwilling to really enjoy the most entertaining. So tonight, we really wanted to reflect the irrepressible spirit that has always defined the American GI and the families back home with the very best entertainment: our talented military and civilian performers and the special insights that our friends Stephen Ambrose and Tom Brokaw are going to give us this evening.

This is a heartfelt gesture of gratitude from all of those whom you defend. To all our heroes, past and present, and, to those families whose faithful support and willing sacrifice sustain us still, thank you once again, for who you are, for what you give, and for the freedoms we enjoy.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to present to you the second annual Pentagon Pops. [Applause.]