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50th Anniversary of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre
June 11, 1998

Deputy Secretary Hamre: Thank you so much Gen. Vaughn. Mrs. Clinton, thank you for coming today. Mrs. Perry, it's a great joy always to be sharing the stage with you.

It's a great honor for me to be here to represent the department. But I must tell you so many of the very senior and talented members of our department are gathered here and it's a testament to our shared view that the Department of Defense cannot function without women in service to America. And we're glad to be here with you. Thank you. (Applause)

Last October, the evening before the women's memorial was dedicated, I said that it was not possible to overstate the significance of the memorial. And that's even more true tonight than then, for the memorial has taken its place as an eloquent and an enduring tribute to the service of military women.

First, let me take a moment on behalf of the Department of Defense to thank in advance the First Lady for her presentation of the Margaret Chase Smith Award to former Secretary Perry. Margaret Chase Smith was a true friend of the Department of Defense and an advocate for a strong American security. There can be no more deserving recipient of the Margaret Chase Smith than Dr. Bill Perry. I worked with him closely when he was the secretary, I was the comptroller at the time. I know personally how hard he worked and the joy he took at making decisions that expanded opportunities for women in our armed forces. And I must say, while Dr. Perry was the secretary, it was really a team effort. And he would be the first to say that. Lee Perry was every bit a part of that team, and Lee, you deserve this just as much as does Bill Perry. Thank you for being here today. (Applause)

We celebrate the contributions of people like Senator Smith and Bill and Lee Perry and America's military women today. And we will again tomorrow when we commemorate the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. This comes during a season of celebration. It was 50 years ago that we enacted legislation permanently integrating of women into the military, and fifty years ago when President Truman signed the executive order integrating the armed forces of the United States.

As we celebrate these anniversaries, let us draw upon the lessons that they can teach us. Each of these acts was controversial and bold at the time they were passed. And I am sure that there were critical voices at the time who said that our armed forces should not be used for social experiments. Each of these acts required courage and sacrifice and a lot of hard work to implement. Each of them also was a very large step toward the march of progress. Each was in its own way a paving stone on the road of American democracy back to where we started: "We hold these truth to be self-evident, that all people are created equal." And at the end, each one of these acts turned out to be very good for the armed forces of the United States.

Last week, Secretary Cohen announced his decision on gender integrated training. There were two important dimensions to his decision. The first, he said, and he concluded and agreed with the chief of staff of the Army and the Air Force and the Chief of Naval Operations, that our military forces are stronger with integrated training for the Army, Navy and the Air Force. The Marine Corps will continue to train and integrate women successfully into the Corps. (Applause)

He also said that women deserved safe and secure living environments and they deserve work environments that are free from intimidation and harassment. And that is our responsibility. (Applause)

We celebrate the service and the progress of military women. And let us remember that progress demands vigilance and enduring effort. American vigilance and effort has done amazing things abroad. It brought down the Berlin Wall. It restored freedom to Kuwait. It preserved an independent and free South Korea. It has freed countless countries from the bonds of tyranny.

Let us be equally vigilant here at home in our own institutions as we seek to advance the cause of freedom. We do that by remembering the commitment of people like Margaret Chase Smith and Bill and Lee Perry. We celebrate the witness of this memorial to the women heroes who fought and died for this country. May God bless those we honor with this memorial and God bless all of you and God bless this sweet land of liberty. Thank you. (Applause)

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