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Presentation of Civilian Patriot Award to Jack Valenti, President of the Motion Picture Association of America
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, California, Thursday, November 30, 2000

Steven [Spielberg], thank you very much. I am tremendously moved by your words. To be introduced by you is something that this older man now from Bangor, Maine—the third largest city in Maine [laughter]—never anticipated and could never have hoped for. Janet and I have been, like most Americans and most people across the world, major fans of yours, and this is a thrill for us to be here tonight and to have you introduce us. So thank you. [Applause.]

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been said that life is short but art is long. The evening, I can tell, has been long as well, but I hope that the art that you have seen this evening will endure in your hearts and minds for many nights and months, and hopefully years, to come. Steven said it well—if you look at the talent that we have in the military you have to ask yourself how is it that we are able to attract, recruit, and then retain the kind of men and women that you have seen on this stage this evening. I hope that you can give all of them one more round of applause to express your gratitude. [Applause.]

There is one person that we have not introduced this evening who plays a very special role for me, in addition to the Secretary of the Army, Louis Caldera, a California boy. We also have another boy from California, and that is Deputy Secretary [of Defense] Rudy de Leon and his wife Anne. [Applause.]

I would like to take this evening to express our thanks to all the members of the armed forces who are with us, including our dedicated military liaisons. They serve as the bridge between Washington and Hollywood, and I’d like to have them stand as we say thanks to you as well. [Applause.]

The USO, [USO President and retired Army] General John Tilelli. "Mayor" [of Hollywood] Johnny Grant, thank you for all that you’re doing on behalf of the USO. The USO has played such an incredibly important role in support of our troops. And, as Janet said, to bring that touch of home to those who are far away from their families, away from their support. It means a great deal to have the USO bring them that touch that’s so important to keep their morale high. So this is another reason why we wanted to be here tonight; to say thank you to Janet, who, as Johnny indicated, is the First Lady of the Pentagon and also the First Lady of the USO. We want to continue this effort long after our tenure at the Pentagon is over. And I say "our" tenure. We're going to continue to work on behalf of our men and women in uniform because they do so much to protect all of us. [Applause.]

I had a long speech tonight, but that’s not what I’m going to inflict upon you. You had an opportunity to pay tribute to a young sailor who survived the USS Cole tragedy. I don’t know if many of you are aware of what took place following that terrorist bombing. But for 48 to 72 hours following that tragic event, these young men and women aboard that ship worked much of the time without any power. They were in total darkness. They had no external support. They had lost 17 of their colleagues. Fifty were desperately wounded. They had chaos all around—smoke, jagged metal. Then they lost the power and the water was coming in at 10 gallons per minute, and they had to bail it out bucket by bucket. But they were determined to save that ship to make sure that ship did not go down.

So I again want to tell you how proud I am [of our forces], and how proud I am of President Clinton for having reached across the aisle to say, "I want this Republican to serve in my administration to send a signal to the American people and to the Congress that when it comes to national security there is no party label. There is no party difference. We have one national security commitment." And I thank him for giving me this opportunity to be the civilian representative of the greatest military in the world, bar none. They are the finest military that we have ever had. They have performed magnificently the world over. Janet and I had the opportunity to visit General Tilelli in Korea up on the DMZ in the frozen hills. We’ve been out in the Persian Gulf where the temperatures ranged from 120 up to 140 degrees. We have been all over the world where our men and women serve us. And I must tell you—there can be no higher honor for me and Janet than to be working on their behalf.

It takes a great tragedy like the USS Cole to remind the American people that our men and women in uniform are serving us. Because of them, you and I are able to sleep safely. We go home tonight and we sleep under that blanket of freedom because of what they do day in and day out, because of the dangers they face day in and day out, because of the lives they put on the line day in and day out. They are great warriors. They are also great musicians, as you've seen. They are great peacekeepers. They are diplomats. But most of all, they're our sons and our daughters, and we must do everything in our power to make sure that we give them everything that they need and deserve in order to continue to serve us in the fashion that they do. That has been our commitment. That will be, hopefully, the commitment of those who will follow. [Applause.]

The film industry plays a critical role. On the way in, a number of the television reporters were asking us, "Why are you doing this? Why are you here in Hollywood?" Well, Hollywood has played a role in the security of this country throughout our history. If you go back to World War I, it was the movie star celebrities who were helping to push those Liberty Bonds. If you look at World War II, many of the celebrities were raising over $1 billion to support that war effort. And then there are the film clips that we have seen here tonight—Saving Private Ryan by Steven Spielberg, U-571, The Perfect Storm, [and] Top Gun that Jerry Bruckheimer produced earlier. And we are going to witness another movie produced by Jerry with Michael Day, Pearl Harbor, coming out on Memorial Day. And, of course, there’s another great tribute to our military by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Men of Honor.

The film industry is important in shaping what people think about our military and supporting them, and we wanted to be here to say something to Hollywood you don’t hear very often, and that’s "Thank you." Thank you for all that you do in portraying the men and women who serve us, their patriotism, their courage, their sense of honor. On behalf of all of us, we in the Pentagon want to say thank you to Hollywood. [Applause.]

Tonight, we’re going to present the first Citizen Patriot Award. And again, I was asked on the way in, "Why Valenti?" Of course, you have to say, well, why not Valenti? After all, you heard [Army tenor Sgt. 1st Class] Antonio [Giuliano] sing this evening. It’s only natural we would pick a fellow colleague from Italy. [Laughter.]

We are celebrating a patriot in Jack Valenti. He is a veteran who flew 50 combat missions over Italy in World War II, who went on to public service in the White House with President Johnson, who has continued his service to this film industry but also to this country. And you know that he’s a man of great language and literature and passion and commitment. He has been a strong advocate on behalf of the men and women who are serving us in the military. So if we’re looking for a citizen patriot, at the very top of the list we take Jack Valenti for all that he represents.

I will tell you that patriotism is in his blood. I remember reading a book that he wrote some years ago, and I came across a passage. He said, "I remember my white-mustached grandfather, Sicilian, proud, and dignified, and dominant, speaking to me and his dozen grandchildren in heavy accents, thick with an odd mix of Sicily and the Texas gulf coast, and he said, ‘Love this country, be proud of this country. It’s a good land.’"

Jack Valenti has lived up to the words of his grandfather. He is proud of this country. He is a proud patriot. And I can’t think of a better summation than one I read from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who also was a warrior, during the Civil War. Holmes said that, "Through our great and good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. And it was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. And while we’re permitted to scorn nothing but indifference and don’t pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes beyond and above the gold fields, those snowy heights of honor. It’s for us to bear the reports of those who follow. But above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord and will scale the ice, the one and only success which is his to command is to bring to his work a might heart."

For more than half a century, Jack Valenti has brought to his work a mighty heart, and we are eternally grateful for that. [Applause.]