President, Armed Forces Bid Perry Farewell
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 1997 With military fanfare and pageantry, President Clinton and the U.S. armed forces bid the 19th secretary of defense farewell.
Marching bands played; troops and flags passed in review. The commander in chief presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the military's top general praised the man of the hour -- William J. Perry.
"It was said of Omar Bradley that he was the GI's general," said Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili. "Well, surely Bill Perry has been the GI's secretary of defense."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was the first to formally say farewell to the departing secretary during a military review Jan. 14. The president and first lady joined about 800 top brass, senior enlisted, government officials and international defense attaches honoring Perry at Fort Myer, Va. Spotlighted in the darkened ceremonial hall, the slightly built, Perry briskly trooped the line side-by-side with the tall, robust, president.
Perry is leaving office after three years at the Pentagon's helm. He was deputy defense secretary for a year prior to being confirmed secretary in February 1994. The former engineering professor and co-director of Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control said he is returning to the California school to read, write and listen to Mozart.
Perry's first military service was as an enlisted soldier shortly after World War II. Born in 1927, the Butler, Pa., native served in the Army Corps of Engineers in Okinawa from 1946 to 1947. After two years in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, he was commissioned a lieutenant in 1950 and served in the Army Reserve until 1955. Perry returned to the Defense Department as a civilian from 1977 to 1981, serving as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, responsible for all weapon systems procurement and research and development.
The cornerstone of Perry's tenure as defense secretary, Shalikashvili said, was his concern for service members and their families.
"He has improved their lives," the general said. "He has worked hard to protect them, whether through improvements in quality of life or when he had to send them in harm's way."
Shalikashvili also praised the secretary's wife for her efforts on behalf of military families. "Lee Perry has been energetically devoted to the welfare and the betterment of the military family. She has traveled leagues to bring special light, grace, dignity and caring to all of our lives ... ."
While it normally takes some time before history makes a final judgment about people in positions of great responsibility, Shalikashvili said, this is not the case for Perry. "With clarity and certainty seldom heard so early, Bill Perry has already been pronounced perhaps the best secretary of defense this nation ever had," he said.
Clinton agreed with his ranking general and commended Perry's hands-on method of running the government's largest, most complex organization. "This method would be demanding enough at any federal agency," he said, "but when your headquarters is the Pentagon and your staff numbers 3 million, what Bill calls 'management by walking around' is all the more remarkable."
Clinton credited Perry with completing the post-Cold War drawdown while increasing readiness and the armed forces' technological edge. He said the mathematician and engineer who fathered stealth technology brought common-sense acquisition and financial reform to the Pentagon.
"He led our successful efforts to dismantle and detarget thousands of Russian warheads once aimed at American cities. ... He helped build a new security architecture in Europe through NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He reinvigorated our security ties with Japan and established new security relationships with Russia, China and our neighbors in Latin America."
Perry's commitment to the nation's troops is what Clinton said he admires most about the Pentagon's departing leader. As the most traveled defense secretary in U.S. history, Clinton said, Perry's trips were as much about checking in with troops and their families as they were with meeting defense leaders in other lands.
"In many of our private meetings together over the last three years, Bill Perry would always, always bring up the welfare, the morale, the interest and the future of our men and women in uniform. ... He understood that whether enlisted or officer, military service is the ultimate expression of patriotism by those who choose to wear our uniform."
Clinton referred to Teddy Roosevelt, who said those in positions of authority should speak softly and carry a big stick. "Bill Perry spoke softly and carried the biggest stick in the world, with great care and to great effect ... . The measure of a great defense secretary is whether he leaves our military stronger and our nation safer than on the day he took office. It is, and we are."