DoD Honors "Private Ryan" Director Spielberg
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 1999 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen presented the Defense Department's highest civilian award to director Steven Spielberg at an Aug. 11 ceremony here.
A military honor cordon welcomed Spielberg to the Pentagon, where he received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service for his 1998 film "Saving Private Ryan." The movie sparked national awareness of the World War II generation's sacrifices. Cohen said it helped reconnect the American public with the nation's men and women in uniform.
Spielberg's "masterpiece poignantly captured the stirring sacrifices of America's World War II heroes, and paid living tribute to their indomitable fighting spirit," Cohen stated in the award citation. The film is a "historic contribution to the national consciousness, reminding all Americans that the legacy of freedom enjoyed today endures in great measure because of their selfless and courageous actions."
"Saving Private Ryan" also prompted veterans to reveal personal war stories, Cohen said. "For decades, many of the veterans struggled to find the right words, the right way to share with family and friends what they had suffered through during that war. Over the past year, we have heard so many stories of veterans, who after seeing this film, finally venturing forth to tell a son, a daughter, or a grandchild of their experience.
"So this film has not only provided an emotional catharsis for yesterday's veterans, but a reminder to today's soldiers that the 'gift outright' was many deeds of war, that blood and bone and soul was sacrified so that a mechanized evil in Europe would not triumph and stamp out the fires of freedom," Cohen concluded.
Taking the podium following Cohen's remarks, Spielberg joked, "I'm in the Army now." The director of "Jaws," "E.T.," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Color Purple," "Amistad," "Jurassic Park" and other blockbusters, then said two films stand above the rest.
"I feel that in my experience as a filmmaker, lightning has only struck twice in a way that has filled me up with such pride," he said. "One of those times was 'Schindler's List,' and the other was 'Saving Private Ryan.'
"I think that if every American could renew their vows with America, as I have had through the working privilege of making 'Saving Private Ryan,' they could feel a pride in their country that right now fills my heart and soul, and makes me humble," Spielberg told the military and civilian guests attending the ceremony.
Spielberg said his goal in making "Saving Private Ryan" was to remember the sacrifices of his father's generation and to try to get his children's generation to honor the past. He wants them to understand what World War II did for America and the world.
The "act of remembrance" has been the director's focus over the last several years. "It's very easy as we move into the next thousand years to forget the last thousand," he said. "Today's youth have a tendency to live in the present and work for the future, but to totally be ignorant of the past."
Spielberg called on filmmakers, writers and television producers and others conscious of this vanishing history, "to all do more to point people backward so we can take that giant leap forward."