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Presentation of Veterans of Foreign Wars Citation to Mrs. Janet Langhart Cohen
Remarks as Delivered by Mrs. Janet Langhart Cohen and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and The Ladies Auxiliary, Midwest Express Center, Monday, August 21, 2000

Mrs. Cohen: Thank you [VFW] Commander [John] Smart. Well done. It is an honor, and it is humbling to be here today to receive this appreciation, because it is from you.

As a little girl growing up in my home town of Indianapolis during World War II, I have some fond memories. I remember the Veterans of Foreign Wars walking in the Veterans Day Parade proudly and strongly. I remember the civic pride and the charity of the Ladies Auxiliary. I remember their shaping and inspiring my patriotism. I remember slogans like, "We're All in This Together" and we still are. I thank you so very much for this.

I also remember seeing my father for the very first time. He was wearing an Army uniform, just back from overseas. I remember the hug, and I remember the roughness of that old Army uniform.

I want to accept this award on behalf of the men and women who serve on active duty for this great country. They serve with courage and commitment. They are what makes this country strong and free. They mean it with their lives when they say duty, honor, country.

I want to accept it on behalf of the military families, our families, America's families. They are the heart of our forces. They have taught me to do a lot with very little. Their support, their sacrifice -- sometimes their painful sacrifices -- are critical to the readiness of our forces.

I also want to accept this great honor and appreciation on behalf of my beloved husband. [Applause.] Bill has invited me to stand by his side as we travel around this globe and here at home. He has loved and led the finest military in the world. And he has done it with his heart -- making sure that our people and their families have the best quality of life, that they have the equipment, the training, and the leadership they need to serve this great nation, and to come home to us safely.

I take this with great pride and humility. God bless you, and God bless this country. Now may I present my husband. [Applause.]

Secretary Cohen: Commander [Smart] and Janet, ladies and gentlemen. This is my second appearance today before most of you, and as such it is in clear violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. [Laughter.] So I will try to be very brief, especially after Janet's wonderful and warm and passionate words.

I've had the privilege today to listen to Miss America. Heather [French], you were just outstanding, and I'm glad you followed me, rather than went before me. [Applause.] You and Janet have something in common. Janet in the past was selected for an unprecedented three times to judge the Miss America contest. You also are the same age. [Laughter.] How that's possible I'm not quite sure [laughter.]

The only thing I took exception to today was when you mentioned after all that you'd done, that she's only 25. Next Monday I celebrate number 60 for me, and it reminded me exactly how time is passing. But I want you to know what a great job you have done on behalf of our military and how much Janet and I have appreciated attending functions where you could be with us, and speaking from the heart as you did today. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

I think all of you got just a little taste of what my wife Janet really is about. It was a great Justice of ours who said that "Life is action and passion, and one must share in that action and passion at the risk of being judged not to have lived." Janet has shared in that action and passion during the course of her lifetime, from her days starting out in television in Chicago, to Boston, to New York, to LA, to London, to Africa. She has been all over the world as a journalist, and she brings great heart to everything that she does.

But I've never seen anyone, frankly, devote the kind of time and effort and passion that she does to serving our military and their families. If there's one gift you could give me it would be a year, if not a lifetime supply, of those [phone] cards, because I find her on the phone at midnight, 1:00, and 2:00 in the morning, talking to families across this country who are having difficulties coping with the day-to-day problems and challenges that they have. She spends endless hours on the phone, on the computer, traveling with me to be -- not my secret weapon -- she's no secret any longer, but she is a weapon.

We have met with kings and queens and emirs, presidents and prime ministers and nothing gives us greater pleasure and gives us a greater sense of satisfaction than when we're out meeting with the troops. We go out to those frozen hills in Korea, and we go out to the deserts in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, we go out to the steaming Gulf where the temperature can rise anywhere from 120 to 130 to 140 degrees. When the humidity factors in it's up to 140, 150 degrees. Those kids on our boats out there are doing their job with those jets taking off, keeping Saddam Hussein contained, and they are not complaining. They are happy in the work that they are doing, and it should give you an immense amount of pride to see these young people who are out there risking their lives day in and day out on our behalf.

Many people see [our military] during the course of a Kosovo war; they see it perhaps in Iraq. What they miss, and what Janet has really tried to do, is to reconnect America with its military.

We all know there has been a downsizing over the years. We no longer have the same size force. We have cut back substantially. We have consolidated bases. And as a result of that consolidation we don't see the military in our midst as much as we used to. We don't feel that rough texture on the cheek that Janet mentioned. And as a result, people tend to take it for granted.

What we don't want to do is to allow the American people to forget about what you go through day in and day out, the kind of sacrifice that you make -- those of you who are wearing the uniform today, those who wore it in the past, and your families -- what they suffer, what they give up day in and day out on behalf of this great country of ours.

So Janet has tried in many ways to reconnect us to our military. She's done it through the Pentagon Pops, our annual musical celebration. We have tremendous talent in our military. They are not only great warriors, they're great musicians. So we put on a display every year. We bring that talent together and put out a musical celebration to all of our troops.

She has formed the first Military Family Forum to bring all of the people together at the Pentagon, people selected at random, perhaps, but from all over the world [whose] families come to the Pentagon. And for some of us it has been mandatory attendance. I've had to be there. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has been there. The Vice Chairman has been there. General [Joseph] Ralston came all the way back from his position as SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander, Europe] to be there, because we wanted to hear about the challenges we face directly, unfiltered, uncensored, from the families presenting it to the top leadership. "Here is what we need. We need you to respond to this." She has been responsible for that, and that's to her great credit. [Applause.]

[Let me mention] Special Assignment. She interviews people from the President to Stephen Spielberg, down to our privates, to sergeant majors. She even may take one of our Golden Knights and bring him up here and perhaps have an interview with him at some point in time to talk about all the great things that the Knights do. That would be a thrill for all of us to see. But she has tried to spread the message wherever she can about the need for us to revere what you do and to respect and honor what you've done, and to make sure the American people are always indebted to those who have carried that banner in the past and who carry it today.

I want to take just this moment to ask [Medal of Honor recipient] Alfred Rascone and his son Alan, who is nine years old, to stand, as well as [Medal of Honor recipients] Kenneth Stump and Jerry Wetcel. [Medal of Honor recipient] Einarh Ingram could not be here today. But I'd like to pay tribute to these three gentlemen. They represent the finest in our country. They are true heroes. Emerson, the great philosopher, said that "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he's braver five minutes longer." These three gentlemen have been braver a lot longer than that. [Applause.]

Let me conclude. As Lady Godiva said, "I am nearing my close." [Laughter.]

About 200 year ago Thomas Paine said that, "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands now deserves the thanks and the love of all men and women."

Janet and I wanted to be here today to say to you -- the VFW has stood with the men and women who serve us. You have never wavered. You have never given up. You have never stopped waiting for those who are abroad and here at home. You've never had to watch the polls or followed popular opinion. You've never disappointed. You are always in the sunshine, whether it be rain, winter, summer, you are the true patriots of this country, and we wanted to be here to say thank you. [Applause.]