Ford Foundation Honors Cheney, Rumsfeld at Anniversary Dinner
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2004 Former President Gerald R. Ford chose an occasion commemorating his presidency to honor two men who served him in the White House and continue to serve their country today.
At an Aug. 9 dinner marking the 30th anniversary of Ford taking office, the Gerald R. Ford Foundation presented the Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service to Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld was called from his position as NATO ambassador to serve as chairman of Ford's transition team. He later served as White House chief of staff and as secretary of defense under Ford.
Similarly, Cheney served as a member of the transition team and replaced Rumsfeld as White House chief of staff. He later served as defense secretary in the first Bush administration. Both men also had previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Following the dinner at Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, Ford presented both men with medals on red, white and blue ribbons. Both citations, signed by the former president and former first lady Betty Ford, said the men "demonstrated the same qualities exemplified by President Ford: strength of character, diligence, decisiveness, sound judgment and integrity."
Rumsfeld and Cheney used parts of their speeches to show their long-standing affection and admiration for each other.
Looking straight at Ford, Rumsfeld called Cheney "the star of your talented team." He said he was proud to receive the award with the current vice president.
"With President Bush, Vice President Cheney has provided our country with strong and thoughtful and steady and, indeed, courageous leadership in very tough times," Rumsfeld said.
When he took the podium, Cheney read from a news article written when he replaced Rumsfeld as White House chief of staff when Rumsfeld was appointed defense secretary in 1975. The article said staffers might try to test Cheney because he was seen as being softer than Rumsfeld.
Making light of his oft-touted hard-edged demeanor, Cheney said he appreciated having Rumsfeld around in the current administration. "When you're around, suddenly people start seeing me as 'softy' (and) 'all warm and fuzzy,'" he said to roars of laughter from the dinner attendees. "And I appreciate that."
On a more serious note, Cheney said he has "no better friend in this city than Don Rumsfeld."
If Cheney and Rumsfeld made light of their years of service together, they showed nothing but heartfelt respect for their former president and his stewardship of America in the tumultuous days surrounding President Nixon's resignation in 1974.
"It takes time and distance before one can truly measure an event or even an era and its significance, but those of you here know what the day was like 30 years ago," Rumsfeld said. "The pressures were enormous. The stakes were high. The world was watching. And indeed, the American people were holding their breath wondering what would be next.
"The words that President Ford used to reassure our country and the American people were plain and straightforward. His sincerity made them eloquent," the secretary continued. "Even in a society coarsened by skepticism, few doubted that the gentleman from Michigan would keep his word. And, indeed, that was his very special magic.
"His countrymen saw the values that make this nation so special in this very good man from Middle America," Rumsfeld said.
Cheney shared similar sentiments. "We can all remember that summer, the anger and the bitterness that filled the air here in Washington," he said.
"We remember the uncertainty that Americans felt as our country passed through the worst constitutional crisis since our Civil War. And, above all, we remember the man who stepped into the East Room that Friday, raised his right hand and took the oath of office."
The vice president noted this was only the second time a U.S. president has lived to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his swearing-in. Herbert Hoover died in 1964, 35 years after taking office.
"That he can do so here at the capital, in the company of Betty and their devoted family and all of us, makes this the happiest of occasions," Cheney said. "And one we'll always remember."
As Ford began to speak, he looked frail and halting but quickly showed he still possessed a sharp sense of humor. The 91-year-old former president said he was going to tell "old war stories" from his days in office "some of them true," he added with a grin.
"At my age in life, one is inclined to think less about dates on a calendar than those things that are timeless: leadership, service, patriotism, sacrifice, about doing one's best, beating every challenge that life presents," Ford said.
"These are just some of the qualities that all of you displayed in a time of uncertainty and national testing," he added. "History will judge our success, but no one can doubt our dedication. We set out to bind America's wounds and heal America's heart."