Address to Veterans Day luncheon, Newark Delaware – November 11, 2014

FIRST, LET ME SAY THANK YOU FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK IN HONOR OF AMERICA’S VETERANS. I AM TRULY HUMBLED TO BE IN THE COMPANY OF THE HEROES WITH US TODAY AND COUNT IT A GREAT BLESSING THAT WE LIVE IN A NATION WHERE SO MANY HAVE SACRIFICED IN THE DEFENSE OF FREEDOM. I ALSO WANT TO SAY THANK YOU TO MAYOR SIERER FOR BEING HERE TODAY AND ALSO THANK YOU TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE PUT THIS EVENT TOGETHER.

THE FIRST VETERAN’S DAY, THEN CALLED ARMISTICE DAY WAS CELEBRATED 95 YEARS AGO TODAY. IN 1919, THEN PRESIDENT WILSON SAID, “TO US IN AMERICA, THE REFELECTIONS OF ARMISTICE DAY WILL BE FILLED WITH SOLEMN PRIDE IN THE HEROISM OF THOSE WHO DIED IN THE COUNTRY’S SERVICE AND WITH GRATITUDE FOR VICTORY, BOTH BECAUSE OF THE THING FROM WHICH IT HAS FREED US AND BECAUSE OF THE OPPORTUNITY IT HAS GIVEN AMERICA TO SHOW HER SYMPATHY WITH PEACE AND JUSTICE IN THE COUNCILS OF NATIONS.”

PRESIDENT WILSON GOT IT JUST RIGHT. VETERANS DAY IS BOTH A TIME OF REFLECTION ON THE HEROIC ACTS OF OUR ARMED FORCES AND ALSO A TIME OF HOPE. A HOPE THAT AMERICA CAN ONCE AGAIN ACHIEVE A LASTING TIME OF PEACE; FOR AS ANY VETERAN CAN TELL YOU – NO ONE WORKS HARDER FOR, HOPES MORE FOR, AND PRAYS MORE FERVERENTLY FOR PEACE THAN OUR VETERANS. FOR IT IS THE VETERAN OF WAR, THE PERSON WHO HAS SEEN THE EFFECTS OF WAR FIRST HAND – IT IS THAT AMERICAN THAT HOLDS PEACE MOST DEARLY.

THE JOURNALIST TOM BROKAW WHEN WRITING ABOUT THE WORLD WAR II GENERATION SAID, “IT IS, I BELIEVE, THE GREATEST GENERATION ANY SOCIETY HAS EVER PRODUCED.” BUT, WHILE THE WORLD WAR II GENERATION WAS INDEED GREAT – I UTTERLY REJECT THE NOTION THAT IT WAS SOMEHOW THE GREATEST AMERICA HAS SEEN; THAT IT WAS A UNIQUE GENERATION. I SAY THIS CONFIDENTLY BECAUSE NO GENERATION OF AMERICANS HAS BEEN SPARED THE RESPONSIBILITY OF DEFENDING OUR LAND. FROM VALLEY FORGE TO SAN JUAN HILL TO KHE SAHN TO BAGHDAD, AMERICAN GREATNESS HAS BEEN CONSISTENT – AND IT HAS BEEN CONSISTENT BECAUSE OF THE DEDICATION OF AMERICA’S PEOPLE; SPECIFICALLY EACH GENERATION OF AMERICAN WARRIORS HAS PERFORMED ACTS OF HEROISM AND GREATNESS. IT IS A CONTINUUM OF GREATNESS, HANDED DOWN FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION IN OUR ARMED FORCES. A BELIEF; AN IDEAL THAT STATES: AMERICA IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR AND THAT AMERICANISM IS WORTH PRESERVING.

I HAVE HAD THE PRIVILEDGE OF SERVING IN AMERICA’S ARMED FORCES FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS – FIRST AS AN ENLISTED MAN IN THE ARMY AND TODAY AS AN OFFICER IN THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE. DURING MY TIME IN THE MILITARY I HAVE HAD THE HONOR OF SERVING WITH SOME OF THE BEST PEOPLE YOU’LL EVER MEET – PEOPLE WILLING TO PUT THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE FOR OUR FAMILIES, OUR HOMES, AND OUR WAY OF LIFE. I AM CONSISTENTLY AMAZED AT THE GREATNESS OF OUR MILITARY MEN AND WOMEN. THEY DO NOT SEEK FAME AND FORTUNE. RATHER, THEY SEEK A BETTER WORLD WHERE PEOPLE ARE FREE TO LIVE AS THEY WISH; WORSHIP AS THEY PREFER; ORGANIZE THEIR LIVES AS FREE PEOPLE WITHOUT THE THREAT OF VIOLENCE FROM THOSE WHO TRAMPLE ON THE RIGHTS OF MAN. THAT MOTIVATION TOWARD A BETTER WORLD IS BORN OF A SELFLESSNESS THAT IS INDEED A CREDO OF THE AMERICAN MILITARY. THAT IS GREATNESS – AND THAT GREATNESS DWELLS IN THE HEARTS OF THE AMERICAN MILITARY IN EVERY GENERATION.

IN LATE MAY 1991, MY ARMY UNIT WAS RETURNING FROM OUR DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQ DURING OPERATION DESERT STORM. WHEN WE LANDED AT WESTOVER AFB IN MASSACHUSETTS, A CROWD OF AMERICAN CITIZENS WAS THERE TO GREET US. AS THEN SGT CHEETHAM DEBOARDED THE PLANE AND WALKED TOWARD THE HANGAR, WE COULD ALL SEE A MASSIVE CROWD OF AMERICANS, CHEERING WILDLY, WAVING OLD GLORY AND SHOUTING OUR NAMES. IT WAS A WONDERFUL HOMECOMING. AS I ENTERED THE HANGAR (LITERALLY ON A RED CARPET) THE FIRST HANDSHAKES, THE FIRST WARM EMBRACES CAME FROM VETERANS OF THE VIETNAM WAR. THEY WERE THERE, SOME IN WHEEL CHAIRS, TO TELL US THAT WE WERE LOVED AND THAT THEY WERE PROUD OF US. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AMAZED BY THAT EVENT. THE VIETNAM GENERATION, SO UNJUSTLY VILIFIED IN THEIR OWN TIME OF WAR, THE MEN WHO HAD BEEN IGNORED OR WORSE BY THEIR COUNTRY, ROSE ABOVE THEIR OWN BITTER EXPERIENCE TO WELCOME US HOME TO AMERICA. THE VIETNAM VETERANS, HEART-BROKEN BY THEIR OWN REJECTION IN THE 1970S BUT DETERMINED TO RIGHT THAT WRONG, WERE SAYING “NOT ON OUR WATCH. WE WILL NEVER LET ANOTHER GENERATION OF VETERANS FEEL ANYTHING BUT LOVE AND RESPECT AND HONOR WHEN THEY COME HOME.” I LOVE THE VIETNAM VETERANS.

IS SOMEONE GOING TO TELL ME TODAY THAT THAT GENERATION OF VIETNAM VETERANS WAS NOT GREAT? OF COURSE THEY WERE.

THE TRUTH IS, THE AMERICAN MILITARY IS MADE UP OF SPECIAL PEOPLE. NOT SUPER HEROES…NOT PERFECT…NOT EVEN 100% VICTORIOUS IN ALL ENDEAVORS. BUT SPECIAL PEOPLE – WHO WHEN THEY SEE A WRONG – THEY WANT TO RIGHT IT. WHEN THEY SEE SUFFERING – THEY WANT TO ALLEVIATE IT. WHEN THEY SEE INJUSTICE – THEY WANT TO RECTIFY IT. THAT IS TRUE OF ALL AMERICAN VETERANS, IN ALL TIMES.

RATHER THAN ASCRIBING A GREATEST GENERATION LABEL TO OUR HEROES, CAN’T WE ALL AGREE – HERE TODAY, THAT THE AMERICAN VETERAN FROM ALL GENERATIONS DESERVES OUR LOVE, HONOR, AND RESPECT?

OFTEN IN THE COURSE OF MY DAY, I HAVE CITIZENS STOP ME AND SHAKE MY HAND; THEY SAY “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.” IT IS HUMBLING AND IT IS AWE INSPIRING. THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE SO GOOD TO OUR MILITARY. LET IT ALWAYS BE SO. BUT I HAVE DEVELOPED MY OWN RESPONSE TO THOSE CITIZENS. WHEN THEY SAY “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE” I ALWAYS REPLY RIGHT BACK “THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING US. THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND OUR HOME TOWNS ARE WORTH DEFENDING – IT IS AN HONOR TO SERVE A GREAT NATION.”

ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS, ARTHUR KOESTLER WROTE, “THE MOST PERSISTENT SOUND WHICH REVERBERATES THROUGH MAN’S HISTORY IS THE BEATING OF WAR DRUMS.” HOW I WISH THAT WERE NOT TRUE. WE MUST ALL WORK AND PRAY FOR PEACE. BUT THE HIGHER IDEALS OF FREEDOM, JUSTICE, AND DECENCY MUST BE PLACED ABOVE OUR DESIRE FOR PEACE; BECAUSE PEACE WITHOUT THOSE OTHER THINGS IS NO PEACE AT ALL.

IT IS THE AMERICAN VETERAN THAT DEFENDS THOSE HIGHER IDEALS. I AM BLESSED TO BE AMONG THOSE VETERANS AND I AM HONORED TO SAY TO THOSE VETERANS HERE TODAY AND ACROSS OUR NATION: “THANK YOU. YOU ARE IN WORD… AND IN DEED – THE GREATEST.”

-cjcheetham

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