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Deputy Secretary of Defense England's Remarks at the Visions of Valor Medal of Honor Event

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England
February 03, 2006

Deputy Secretary of Defense England's Remarks at the Visions of Valor Medal of Honor Event

            MS. CHASE:  Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Babs Chase.  On behalf of Public Affairs I want to welcome all of you to the Pentagon.  It is an honor and a privilege to have you here to open this amazing exhibit and honor these incredible gentlemen in front of you, our true heroes.

 

            As many of you know, over 68,000 people visit the Pentagon on an annual basis.  In addition to the 23,000 incredible people that work here and pass through these halls on a daily basis. 

 

            We want to thank Nick Del Calzo, the photographer sitting here on the front row with us.  We want to thank the Medal of Honor Society and TriWest Healthcare Alliance for providing us the opportunity to be inspired by these amazing Americans on a daily basis.

 

            After our brief program we want to invite all of you to take a very close look at these incredible pictures and then thank these gentlemen that are here with us today.

 

            At this time I'd like to introduce Mr. David McIntyre, CEO and President of TriWest Healthcare Alliance.  Thank you.

 

            MR. McINTYRE:  Babs, thanks for that introduction.

 

            Secretary England, Senator Stevens, Senator Inouye, Lieutenant General Retired Nick Kehoe, Nick Del Calzo, and our heroes most of all, those of you that wear the Medal of Honor.  It's a privilege for my colleagues and I from TriWest to be here with you today.

 

            We have the privilege every day of working side by side with those that wear the uniform and meeting the health care needs of 2.7 million military personnel and their families across 21 states including the great states of Alaska and Hawaii.  As a result of that work, we've had the opportunity to be in the presence of heroes every day because they're our customers.  But no segment of that customer base or our citizenry better personifies the valor and the values of this great nation than those that wear the Medal of Honor.

 

            Gary Littrell, Bob Howard, Brian Thacker, Senator Inouye, Barney Barnum, Robert Foley and Joe Marm, thanks for your example to all of us.  I'm always humbled to be in your presence and it's great to be with you today.

 

            Thanks for what you've done for our nation, and thanks for the example that you are not only to us but to generations to come.

 

            JFK once said, "A great nation is one that recognizes and remembers its heroes."  In our day where we struggle to find heroes that matter and people that do things that matter, I would suggest that we need to look no farther than to those that wear the Medal of Honor for you truly embody the concept of service before self.

 

            Last year we had the opportunity to get to know many of you at the annual convention of your society in Phoenix, and we walked away from that experience with the desire to help our colleagues in America, all of our citizens, to have the opportunity to get to know you better and to understand your values.

 

            I'm sure you will agree once you've had the opportunity to see these photographs that Nick Del Calzo has done an amazing job in a very visual way of capturing great Americans.  And we can think of no better place than to have this set of photographs than in the Pentagon, for this is truly an area and a hallway of heroes.

 

            This is the first time ever that this historic collection has been displayed in its entirety.  We purchased two copies.  One will be at the Pentagon permanently and the other one has started a journey around our 21 states, to the military installations and the communities that we have the privilege of serving.  Today it's in San Diego.  Starting in May it will be in Hawaii as part of the statewide celebration to honor those that serve all of us.

 

            Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you again for taking time from your busy schedule to be with us.  We appreciate all that you're doing for the nation.

 

            Senator Stevens, I want to thank you for joining us today.  We not only thank you for what you're doing for our nation, but for being here to support your very good friend and colleague, Senator Inouye, and his fellow Medal of Honor recipients.

 

            Most of all, from all of us at TriWest it's our privilege to serve those that wear the uniform.  We thank you for your service.  We thank you for your sacrifice.  And we thank you for the example that you are to all of us and to generations to come.

 

            As always, it's humbling to be in your presence.

 

            I'm now going to introduce the man that for all of you needs no introduction and that's the Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, who I now have the privilege of following on the Board of the U.S. [inaudible].  Sir?

 

            SECRETARY ENGLAND:  Thank you.

 

            Good morning.  You know, generally when the Secretary leaves I'd just as soon he be in the building because when he leaves of course things get a little busier for me.  He's in Verkunde.  But I will tell you, I'm delighted that he's not here today so that I have this opportunity with you today because this is a profound honor for me today to be here with you, all of our Medal of Honor winners, but also to literally inaugurate and dedicate this hall.  This is a wonderful, profound honor.

 

            Senator Stevens, welcome.  It's wonderful for you to be here with your great friend Senator Inouye who's here twice -- a great Senator, great American, also a Medal of Honor winner, and all of our Medal of Honor winners here today.

 

            There are 117 Medal of Honor winners alive today.  Since the Civil War, 3,441.  This is a very, very small number, small in number in terms of earned by only a few but revered by millions.  Not just in the United States, but literally around the world.

 

            Barney Barnum I got to know five years ago.  Barney came in and he wanted to serve America.  I didn't know Barney was a Medal of Honor winner at that time.  He came in to serve America, but I think Barney is indicative of all these great people who have this Medal of Honor because dedicated patriots serve America, and here still serving America these many years later, still out here doing what's right for the country.  Barney, I thank you and I thank you on behalf of all the Medal of Honors who so do much for America.  Their whole life times they dedicate to America, and I thank you.  And God bless you for the great service.

 

            You know it is important to have heroes.  It's important to have heroes because they set standards, expectations.  I mean people look back and they know what can be achieved.

 

            The other night we were down at Fran O'Brien's, great dinner.  The Medal of Honor put on a dinner for all of our men and women who were injured.  They go down every Friday and [inaudible].  All the Medal of Honor winners were there and all the fellows, everybody wanted autographs and to read the books.  It's all because you draw inspiration from people who have succeeded in giving so much and set such high standards of examples.  So people draw energy from that.

 

            In the Navy we name our ships -- our last ship we named after Stockdale, Admiral Stockdale, a great American because our sailors draw energy from those names, to be associated with great individuals.  So it's important to have heroes and I thank you, I thank you for the great standard and everything that you've done for America.

 

            I have two -- When you look at the photographs, on all the floors now, you will see under each photograph a quotation and I have just two of them.  Joe, I have yours, Joe Caviani's, and here's what his says.  "The cost of freedom has been paid with the blood of American men and women who have served and died for our great country.  Every day we should thank God they have never failed us."

 

            I picked it put because it's a timeless comment.  It's all those men and women for 230 years that have given their lives for our country and who are today giving their lives and giving their limbs in the defense of freedom and liberty around the world.  So Joe, I thank you because it's very appropriate today and it will be appropriate in the future, people who give so much for America.

 

            The other quotation I have is one by Senator Dan Inouye's photograph.  It says, "Duty, honor, country.  As long as we believe in these words our nation and our democracy will flourish."  Duty, honor, country.  Again, timeless.  For 230 years and into the future, that's why people serve their country, those civilian and military.  They do it for their country.  Duty, honor and country.

 

            So I thank you.  It is a profound honor for me to be here and I thank you.  I'm humbled by the opportunity to be here.  I'd like to say I'm so glad the Secretary was gone today, and I know a lot of you would like for him to be here, but I'm glad he is not here today so I have an opportunity to participate.

 

            With that, let me introduce Mr. Gary Littrell.  The leader of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and himself a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Gary?

 

            MR. LITTRELL:  Thank you.

 

            In December of 1861 President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill authorizing the minting and issuing of the Medal of Honor to the Navy.  At that time the Medal would be issued to Navy and Marines for courageous action during the Civil War.

            In February of 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed a second bill authorizing the minting and award of the Army Medal of Honor.

 

            For 103 years there were two Medals of Honor -- the Navy and Marines, and later in 1942 it was awarded to a Coast Guard; and then the Army for Army personnel and later awarded to the Army Air Corps.  103 years later in 1965 the Air Force, no longer being a part of the old Army Air Corps, designed their own Medal.

 

            The Navy Medal is a star, as you can see on Colonel Barnum's neckband today.  It's a single star and it has Minerva, the Queen of Battle, in the center of it. 

 

            The Army Medal is the Medal that I'm wearing.  It has a star with a wreath, and it also has Minerva, the Queen of Battle.

 

            In 1965 the Air Force designed their Medal.  They kept the design of the Army similar, they made it about five times as big as the Army's.  Some of us Army people say in a joking way, a loving, joking way, that it was made out of Kevlar to be used as full body armor.  [Laughter].  But it is similar to the Army's.  They replaced Minerva, the Queen of Battle, with the Statue of Liberty.  There are five living Air Force Medal of Honor recipients today.

 

            Today we have 117 living Medal of Honor recipients ranging in age from our oldest recipient, Lieutenant John Finn who is 96 years old.  John got his Medal, it was the first Medal awarded in World War II.  He was at Pearl Harbor. John is still doing fine.  He was with Mr. McIntyre at San Diego last week.  Still loves the young ladies, and that's what gets him up out of that wheelchair and gets him walking.

 

            Our youngest recipient is 55 years old, Gordon Roberts.  I visited Gordon in Afghanistan last April.  I attempted to visit with him again this past November, but he came home three weeks early and we passed in the airport at Kuwait.  He is the only living Medal of Honor recipient still on active duty.  He's a battalion commander at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

 

            The average age of our Medal of Honor recipient is 74 years old.  We are a dying society.  I feel sure that within the next 10 to 15 years that number of 117 will probably be down well into the two-digit numbers.

 

            The last action of a living recipient was in Vietnam in 1972.  It was Navy SEAL by the name of Michael Thornton.  Since that time we have had three posthumous awards.  For those of you that have read the book or watched the movie "Blackhawk Down," Gary Gordon, Randall Stuttgart in Somalia, in 1993 was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumous; and the 4th day of April of last year, Sergeant First Class Paul Smith's family was awarded the Army Medal posthumous for his action in Baghdad, Afghanistan.  Last November I was fortunate enough to visit the site of that action and it is breathtaking.

 

            Five years ago Mr. Nick Del Calzo started photographing our Medal of Honor recipients.  At that time there were approximately 150 living Medal of Honor recipients.  Today he has captured the image of approximately 140.  There are three more that we hope to capture within this month or next month, and that will complete the photo exhibit of the Medal of Honor recipients.

 

            Today I'd like to give a very special thanks to several people.  Number one, Mr. David McIntyre and his staff at TriWest Healthcare Alliance; Mr. McIntyre bought these photos and donated them to the Pentagon to be displayed. 

 

            I'd like to thank the Office of the Secretary of Defense for accepting the photos and displaying them in a prominent place here in the Pentagon.

 

            I'd like to thank Mr. Nick Kehoe, General Kehoe, President of our Medal of Honor Foundation and his boss, Chairman of the Medal of Honor Foundation, Wally Nunn, for working close with Mr. Del Calzo and coordinating the efforts of getting the photos taken.  A great thank you to all.

 

            And last, I'd like to thank all of you ladies and gentlemen that are here today for the grand opening and unveiling of these photos.

 

            Thank you very much.

 

            MS. CHASE:  Thank you, Mr. Littrell, Mr. McIntyre, Deputy Secretary England for being with us today.  And a special thank you to all of our distinguished visitors.

 

            I want at this time to get our distinguished visitors to come up here for a quick photo, and I encourage all the rest of you to enjoy the exhibit.  Thank you so much for coming.

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