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OpSail 2000: International Naval Review
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, USS John F. Kennedy, New York Harbor, Tuesday, July 04, 2000

Secretary [of the Navy, Richard] Danzig, thank you very much for your kind comments. Annie [Danzig], let me thank the two of you for the energy and vision that you have both brought to our Navy these past several years. You’ve just done an outstanding job, and the Navy is deeply proud of you and we’re proud of the job you do on behalf of the Navy. So thank you. [Applause.]

President Clinton and the First Lady, Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea, welcome; Attorney General [Janet] Reno; Secretary [of Transportation, Rodney] Slater; Captain [Michael] Miller [Commanding Officer, USS John F. Kennedy]; Admiral [Robert] Natter [Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet]; Deputy Secretary [of Defense Rudy] de Leon and Anne; Janet [Cohen]; members of the Armed Forces; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.

What a great day. What a great day we have arranged for us to celebrate this birthday of ours. [Applause.] I think it is quite fitting that we gather this year, the first year of a new century and new millennium, on this magnificent carrier, named after our 35th President. President Kennedy not only served in the Navy, but was one of its greatest champions in the last century, a century that began with freedom in doubt, and ended with freedom flourishing.

Indeed, I think if President Kennedy had witnessed the ceremony that just occurred a few moments ago, he’d be wearing a smile as wide a Broadway itself. He once said of our Navy, "I can imagine no more rewarding career. And any man or woman who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction by saying, ‘I served in the United Sates Navy.’" So he would be smiling here today. [Applause.]

We are here today in that spirit, and before this spectacular vista, to pay tribute and express our thanks for the service and sacrifice of the sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who made this event possible. But just as importantly, [we pay tribute to] the service and sacrifice of the tens of thousands of men and women in uniform on sea, on land, and, as you saw, in the air, who are representing and defending our nation throughout the world today.

Indeed, at this very moment, some 53,000 of America’s sailors are serving the world over in a dozen different exercises and operations, such as Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf and making port visits to 10 different nations, from Spain to Singapore.

All of them, and you can witness this from the stunning display that you see here today, take an immense and well-justified pride in the power and precision of America’s armed forces. And they recognize that their calling is not only worthwhile, it is noble. It is the call to be part of the strongest force for peace and stability in the history of mankind.

The liberty that we enjoy today, on this day and on every day, is not a gift of fate, guaranteed forever. It is a legacy of responsibility that demands eternal commitment and renewal. Our freedom flows directly from the hands, the hard work, and the hard-won victories of men and women in uniform. I have had the privilege for the past three and a half years to see that drive and discipline and dedication everyday as Secretary of Defense. And I am overjoyed that you now have the chance, and the American people who are watching this have an chance, to see such a magnificent display of that power, that precision, that pride. On behalf of all of us who are here today, thank you very much to the men and women who are serving us. [Applause.]

We frequently say this, but we deeply believe it. We have the finest military in the history of the world. [Applause.] There is no one that can match our training. No one can match our technology. But most of all, no one can match the character and courage of our servicemen and women. And we are committed to sustaining that force so that it defends our liberties in this century, just as it defended the liberties of Americans and all of our allies in the past century.

More than 50 years ago, toward the end of the Second World War, the renowned Judge Learned Hand came here to New York City and spoke to a group of newly sworn-in citizens. And he talked about how those new citizens were more than simply pledging their allegiance to our democracy as we saw just a few moments ago. He said they were reaffirming the meaning of, and paying honor to, the suffering and sacrifices of those who had gone before them in that cause. The dual ceremony that we have just witnessed -- a swearing-in of new citizens followed by a reenlistment of our sailors -- is a very vivid and eloquent restatement of that principle.

Judge Hand went on to say that the responsibility of Americans to defend liberty would not "end with the sound of the guns." It required a fidelity to the "spirit of liberty which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women, which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias. The spirit of liberty embodies the lesson that mankind has never learned, but has never quite forgotten, that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest."

I mention his words because today we are honoring that principle, because in just a few moments, we will be privileged to hear from an extraordinary young woman who represents those ideas and ideals. From a life of deprivation in Honduras, she immigrated to the United States, right here to New York, just seven years ago. And like so many people inspired by the possibility and the promise and potential of life in America, she was in search of an education, in search of a better way of life. She has found that not only here in this city, but here on board this ship.

Seaman Rosa Norales-Nunez graduated from the Jane Addams High School in the Bronx last spring. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy last August. And just a few minutes ago, she made one of the most profound and noble pledges that she will ever make in her life. She took the oath to become a citizen of the United States.

She may be one of the newest citizens among us, but she has embraced that spirit of liberty as much as you or I. And it is a great tribute to the generosity and spirit of America she is not only able to share the same platform with our foremost citizen, our Commander-in-Chief, but that she is welcomed here. She is honored by all of you who are here. Ladies and gentlemen, that is truly the spirit of liberty, the spirit of America. [Applause.]

Judge Hand, in that remarkable speech of his, said that liberty lies in the hearts of men and women and that when it dies there, there is no statute, no law, no regulation, indeed, no constitution, that can save it. But as long as it lives there, there is no need for any law or regulation or constitution to save it.

It is now my pleasure to introduce to you a person who represents the pride of our Navy and, indeed, the pride of our nation, who represents that spirit of liberty that lies deep in her heart, Seaman Rosa Norales-Nunez. [Applause.]