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Remarks at Pentagon Vietnam War Exhibit Opening Ceremony

There you have the meaning of this ceremony and this hallway, right there in Chuck Hagel – and more about you in a moment, Chuck.  

Good afternoon everybody.  A lot of distinguished guests here, thank you, DoD colleagues past and present – standing room only, but worth it – members of the Vietnam War Commemoration especially.  Thank you for being here.

Today’s unveiling and the government-wide’s commemoration are an important part of our commitment to honor veterans from the Vietnam era – and their families – for service, for valor, for sacrifice.  And we have a number of veterans here with us today, one of whom you just heard from.  Each of you honors us with your presence.  Thank you.  And let’s begin by giving them a round of applause.

I also want to thank Mike Rhodes – Mike, thanks – and Jim Jackson for helping lead our department’s Vietnam commemoration.  Thanks to both of you.

And I want to thank Chuck Hagel for joining us here today.  I’m proud to call Chuck a friend.  He’s one of modern America’s finest public servants.  From his bravery and sacrifice in Vietnam to his continued leadership in and out of elected office and here as Secretary of Defense, Chuck’s been dedicated to those who serve, to bringing home those still missing, and to making sure we remember the lessons of yesterday’s wars so we can ensure the continued excellence of today’s military and DoD. 

That’s one reason why we have hallway displays like the one we’re unveiling today.  As anyone who has walked these miles of Pentagon hallways can tell you, our corridor exhibitions celebrate some of our military’s finest accomplishments and many of the men and women who’ve served this country since our nation’s founding. 

But these exhibits have also sought to ensure we continue to remember the lessons our military has learned along the way – many hard-won, some difficult to swallow.  And as a result, these displays have not only inspired everyone who walks by them, they’ve also helped make us a better department and a stronger military.

This museum-quality exhibit will do the same.  The Vietnam War Commemoration’s staff was the driving force behind it.  The Corridor Committee supported their idea; and our experts in OSD and the Services’ Historical Offices collaborated to make the exhibit a reality; and our professionals in OSD Graphics brought it to life.  I want to thank all of them for their work and commend them for a job well done. 

And of course, our fine and faithful tour guides will help walk – literally and figuratively – some 100,000 visitors through it each year.  And that’s in addition to the tens of thousands of us who work and walk these halls every day.

Each person – whether a junior servicemember, a long-time DoD civilian employee, or a young student visiting on a school trip – will see what you’re getting the first look at today.  They’ll read the 30-year-long history of America’s engagement in the conflict in Vietnam, which extends all along the corridor.  

They’ll search the video index of Vietnam War Medal of Honor Recipients so they can remember the many heroes of that conflict.   And they’ll peer into the two Huey cabs right behind me, representing the MEDEVAC and “Slick” that are etched into the memories of so many.  

As they do, they’ll remember the dedication and sacrifice of the approximately 9 million Americans who – like Chuck and many others here – served in the Vietnam era.  They’ll see how our engagement in Vietnam evolved throughout the years, and how – as with the helicopter – DoD adapted its approach to the war to better serve the mission and our people.  And they’ll be reminded of the lessons we learned along the way – lessons about the innovative uses of capabilities like helicopters, and lessons on how our country must treat our warriors and our veterans, and the shame of how returning Vietnam veterans were treated – lessons that should continue, must continue to guide us in our work. 

Vietnam-era veterans and their families have helped America learn those lessons…and ensure we never forget them.  Throughout this hallway, and the ongoing commemoration of the Vietnam War and those who served, future servicemembers and civilians will continue to remember those lessons for years to come.

Now, this hallway wouldn’t be possible without the original leadership of Retired Army Lieutenant General Claude Kicklighter.  Claude has dedicated over six decades of public service to this country – I’ve known him for over 30 years – and he most recently served as Jim’s predecessor, where he laid the foundation for what we’re doing today. 

So we would like to take a moment to recognize him for his contributions and present him with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.  Come on up here, Claude.