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Screening of "Men of Honor"
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC, Saturday, October 21, 2000

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much. Master Chief Brashear, Secretary [of the Navy, Richard] Danzig and Andy [Danzig], Admiral [Vern] Clark [Chief of Navel Operations] and Connie [Clark], George Tillman [Director, "Men of Honor"], Robert Teitel [Producer]. Your cinematic achievements leave us awe inspired indeed. [Applause] Navy divers who are here this evening and whose heroism beneath the seas is finally raised to the surface with this film. According to all the Navy divers I've talked to, Cuba Gooding took to the water, "like a professional." And you're still young enough to sign up. [Laughter.] But tonight we wanted to pay tribute to you for a truly amazing performance. What a great and inspirational job you've done. [Applause.]

I think all of you know that recent days have been quite draining and difficult for all of us, and all of you have seen the pictures of the damage that was done to the USS Cole. That attack was as deadly as it was dishonorable. It took from us 17 men and women of honor, and wounded another 45. Janet and I were there to join the Secretary of the Navy and the CNO with so many others, thousands of others, to meet with the grieving families. And I know that you all would join me tonight offering a prayer for them and for the wounded, and to take this opportunity to express our profound sorrow for the loss of these men and women of honor and those who were wounded. I would ask all of you to remember the men and women who wear the uniform today for what they do for us each and every day.

 

My wife Janet and I have tried to call the attention of the American people to what we call "reconnecting" the American people to their military, to make them aware of what we mean by service and sacrifice. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy sometimes to illuminate exactly how heroic these men and women are who serve us. And so I want to pay tribute tonight to the Navy divers because of their great skill. Many of you perhaps were not aware of what they were doing to help save the USS COLE. They were over there helping to save lives, to recover the wounded, and indeed, the remains of those that we've lost, and to keep that ship afloat. They were fighting, as Admiral Clark would say, to keep that ship afloat. We take great inspiration from all of them.

I know that all the Navy divers take great inspiration from the man who's life that we are celebrating tonight. It was an English writer who said that, "All of you that would be seamen must bear a valiant heart." Tonight we have born witness to a seaman with a valiant heart.

 

Jack Valenti [President, Motion Picture Association of America] is with us tonight, and Jack is familiar with the expression that "if someone tells you it's not about the money, you know it's about the money." Now, I'm not going that direction with Cuba Gooding. [Laughter] But if someone tells you it's not about race, you know it's about race. And in this particular case, if someone tells you it's about spirit, you know it's about spirit. We have witnessed one man's incredible spirit triumph over all the obstacles that were laid in his path.

 

He entered the water carrying extra weight -- the weight of racism, the weight of disability -- and yet he emerged from the seas to be called a Master Diver, saving the lives of his fellow sailors. And he must be called something else, and that's a great hero. So we are here tonight, Master Chief, to pay tribute to you for what you represent, for the flame that you have kindled and rekindled in our hearts. This will be a movie that will inspire people not only the country over but the world over for what you represent in terms of the human spirit and being able to endure and to overcome.

If your scars are greater than most, I would say it's because you've given more than most. Master Chief Brashear, said it has taken him more than 20 years since he retired in 1979 to get this film made, and he said it's taken so long because Cuba Gooding wasn't around until now. [Laughter.] Well, lucky for us, Cuba Gooding, Jr. is around for us now, and I'd like you, Cuba, to escort my wife Janet to the stage, and perhaps you might have an opportunity to say a few words. [Applause]

Cuba Gooding, Jr.: Thank you. They said keep it brief, so I have to be quick. My first very major role was a film that was very dear to me because it exposed a very serious situation in inner cities about gang violence. And one of the statements made in the movie by my character was that when you stand in the Army, that's the white man's Army. And though I am very proud of that movie -- the movie being Boys in the Hood -- it was a statement that I never really thought about. I said it as an actor and I think the movie made a very serious and important impact.

Then about a year and a half ago my agent sent me a script about a man called Carl Brashear. I wept several times reading this script, and it wasn't just because of the emotion that was exposed from this man's life that I had experienced by reading the script. It was partly my embarrassment that I never knew that there was a man, let alone an African American man, who had accomplished so much for our armed forces, and also had made naval history by being an amputee who didn't see himself as someone with a disability, but someone who had the courage to overcome any obstacle, be it racial or what not.

As important a message as Boys in the Hood gave, I think this movie gives one that is very important as well, and I'm just proud to be here. That's all I really want to say, and I love you, Carl. [Applause.]

Mrs. Cohen: I just want to thank everybody for coming. I love our Navy. And Carl Brashear, I'm so proud of you. What you did made it possible for people like me to do all the things I'm able to do. You are part of our Greatest Generation. Thank you. And I want to say that Cuba Gooding, Jr., has never said no to our military. Every time we ask him to do something for our military, he has done it. Thank you, Cuba. [Applause.]

Secretary Cohen: Allow me to share one other word for those who are here tonight wearing the Navy's uniform. I mentioned a very profound and grievous wound that was inflicted upon our ship and upon our soul here in this country with the damage done to the USS COLE. But I also want you to know how much pride and how much patriotism that all who wear the uniform felt that that day when we were paying tribute to those who lost their lives. There were a number of them who were wounded who were there.

Carl, you would especially appreciate this. One of them who had suffered a very, very serious leg wound wanted to be at that ceremony and he insisted on being there. He said, "I'll have my leg amputated after the ceremony is over." That's the kind of spirit that is in our Navy today, our military today and throughout our services. And I want the American people to understand that we have that kind of commitment on behalf of this country.

 

Having said that, Cuba, if you will please join me as we present Master Chief Brashear with the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service. [Applause.]