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Actor Michael Nouri Honors Pentagon Victims

Presenter: Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Dov S. Zakheim
June 26, 2002 1:00 PM EDT

(Other participants included actor Michael Nouri, Col. Gregory Mason, U.S. Army (retired), communications director for the Army Emergency Relief Society, and Adm. Jerome Johnson U.S. Navy (retired), executive director of the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society.)

Zakheim: This is a very very special moment for us. We've had since September 11th a number of different institutions and organizations that have stepped forward and donated funds for the various relief societies, the Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society, the Army Emergency Society, and of course our own Federal Education and Emergency Assistance Society.

But this is an entirely different kind of circumstance because Michael Nouri, who is obviously an internationally known actor. I remember the last time I was in the Pentagon I took an evening off to go see Flash Dance. That was in the early '80s. A terrific movie. But more important than that, what he did was truly grassroots fundraising. After every performance of South Pacific, and you performed all over the country I understand, Mr. Nouri would essentially tell the people there why don't you reach into your wallets, reach into your pockets and leave something for the people who suffered up in New York City and in the Pentagon, and they did. And Mr. Nouri collected some $386,000, give or take, and -- excuse me, 362 or 363, and gave half of that to funds up in the city and is here today to make a presentation.

This is truly a presentation from Americans all over to the Americans here who again come from all over the place, some of them in suits like me, some of them in uniforms, but all of us doing our best to protect and defend this great country. And as we've seen, to lay down lives, sometimes in the most unexpected ways at the most unexpected times.

So we're exceedingly grateful to Mr. Nouri for his initiative, for what he's done for making us all feel proud to do what we do, and to know that people out there, people who just went to the theater were ready to take time off and think about what went on here, what went on in New York, and how important our country is to all of us.

So Mr. Nouri, I turn it over to you. Thank you so much.

Nouri: This is the culmination of a dream that I bring here. It was the dream of literally hundreds of thousands of Americans who I had the pleasure of greeting after eight performances a week for six months. And we had 100,000 people per month. So we had the opportunity, the cast members and I, to meet these people in the lobby with sea bags and to accept and receive whatever donations they wanted to make.

As we were in New York on September 11th, only 10 blocks from the event, and we witnessed the event as it occurred, we felt compelled to do something to help out. We were all slack-jawed with shock at the time of the event, and then we felt mobilized. There was this amazing feeling of needing to connect as human beings, to connect on a level of sanity and of humanity. So it was a no-brainer to initiate this fundraising. It just worked out perfectly.

We hit the road on the 13th. We sat in empty aircraft to our first location under enormous security, and we began the fundraising, which has yielded $362,000.

I have here a check for $181,041.01. I emphasize the one cent, because as I was reviewing the amounts of money that we collected every week the pennies reflected the offerings of children, of kids, of children, of babysitters, who would walk up and say is it okay if I put my babysitting money in here?

So this humble offering, this offering of healing. It's an offering of compassion, an offering of love from Americans, from human beings of every description across the country that I had the honor of standing and greeting after singing God Bless America at the end of the performance.

So this is the culmination of a dream of many people who entrusted me with delivering this money here to the Pentagon.

There is a twin check for the same amount that I will deliver to former Mayor Giuliani for the Twin Towers Fund.

In closing, I want to thank all of you for the time that you've taken to have me come here and to have the opportunity to turn this nearly frayed check which I've been carrying in my wallet for three months now, it has finally found its way home and I thank you very much for your kindness in having me here.

Thank you.

[Applause]

Zakheim: I want to pass this check to Admiral Jerry Johnson of the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society and Greg Mason of Army Emergency Relief, and also accept it on behalf of the -- You guys can look at it. It really is the money that Mr. Nouri says it is. And for the Civil Service, as I say I'm representing them.

What you've done is an act of true generosity. It's not just the money, it's the heart you put behind it.

You're always welcome here. We are indebted to you for your time, your effort and your compassion. Thank you.

Johnson: Michael, thank you very much. We sincerely appreciate it.

This represents, again, the outpouring of generosity and concern by the American citizens and I am deeply grateful for your personal commitment, your patriotism to follow through with this. It does take a great deal of energy and time to create a situation such as this and to encourage the people.

We've found over the last few months we received over 4,000 donations and some of them, as you say, come from small schools or school classes, individuals, cities that do raffles or picnics or bake sales. But this is truly representative I think of the widespread groups of cities that you have visited and the concern.

Let me tell you that we have already used some of this money. We received over $5 million. We have relocated families. We have widows who have completed college training and now rejoined the workforce. We have young children of deceased who are attending college at our expense with all expenses paid. So every penny of this money, down to the penny, will go to the families from the Pentagon and also from our combat casualties and the losses that we've experienced in Afghanistan. We've lost two Marine Corps aircraft and two Navy SEALS as combat casualties that we're very concerned with.

Michael, it was a great effort, and we truly appreciate it. Thank you very much. God bless you. Thank you.

Nouri: God bless you, too.

Mason: Sir, on behalf of soldiers and their families, thank you very much. I don't want to repeat what Admiral Johnson said, but basically Army Emergency Relief has experienced the same type of activity as they have. We've got 45 families that we're helping as a direct result of the Pentagon attack; 44 children who we're going to make sure have a college education available to them. And like Admiral Johnson, we've lost a few soldiers in Afghanistan in the war on terrorism.

On behalf of those and their families, thank you, sir.

Nouri: You're welcome, sir. It's a pleasure.

Zakheim: Thank you, Michael.

Thanks very much, and thank you for coming. God bless America.