Remarks Onboard the USS North Carolina

Remarks Onboard the USS North Carolina  (2004) 
by Elizabeth Dole

Thank you so much for that wonderful, warm welcome. And thank you, Mr. Bryan, for those very kind words of introduction. It is a privilege to be with you and other Battleship Commissioners. I must say, I am certainly earning my sea legs this week! This past Saturday I was honored to be in Newport News, Virginia as the keynote speaker for the Keel Laying Ceremony for the nation’s newest submarine, the USS North Carolina. But today – well, this is a real first for me. Over the years I have been so fortunate to speak all over America – the world, even. But to be invited to speak on a Battleship – the USS North Carolina, no less - is truly an experience unlike any other. I am so pleased to be here.

As my staff and I were getting prepared for our events this week, I was informed of a sea-worthy tidbit. It seems that during World War II, Admiral Chester William Nimitz explained that “A ship is always referred to as 'she' because it costs so much to keep one in paint and powder.” I have a hard time believing Admiral Nimitz was telling the truth!

Military service has always been a part of my family – as some of you may know, my husband Bob is a Veteran. But what you may not know is that my brother John Hanford served in the Navy. In World War II, John was in the Pacific Theater on the aircraft carrier Saratoga. She was seriously damaged a number of times by Japanese suicide planes, and I can remember my big brother John coming home on “survivor’s leave.”

This great vessel I stand on today played a significant role in defending our country, just as my husband Bob, my brother John and so many of you did when called to duty.

And we all know there are as many different definitions of ‘veteran’ as there are veterans themselves. There are veterans of war and veterans of peace. Combat veterans and non-combat veterans. Veterans who served on the seas, in the air, or on the ground. Veterans from the Cold War and veterans from the hot wars: the World Wars; Korea; Vietnam; Panama; Grenada and the Persian Gulf. And now veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, all are veterans.

And every Veteran has a story. I am certain that in this audience today there are real life stories of heroism, of sacrifice. There are somber stories of tragedy in war. And there are inspiring stories of courage and enduring hope for peace.

I am so proud to represent the hundreds of thousands of Veterans who call North Carolina home. It is a privilege indeed to serve those who have so valiantly served their country. When I was running for the Senate, I promised to work for our veterans – and that is a promise I am keeping. When I arrived on Capitol Hill, I immediately sought a seat on the Armed Services Committee. I want to be a voice for North Carolina in the decisions relating to our country’s military – past and present.

I support President Bush’s budget request for 5.6 billion dollars in new spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs, for benefits, for services. President Bush has the right man on the job for veterans – Secretary Tony Principi. Tony and I have been friends for a long time. I know if we give him the resources, he will do the very best for every American who has served this country.

America owes so much to our veterans, especially when it comes to their health care needs. Waiting times to visit with a doctor are far too long. It’s often difficult to see specialists. Veterans in rural areas have to travel too far to get care at all. Especially as the average age of our nation’s veterans is rising, we must ensure quality health care for all veterans.

The good news is thanks to the President’s leadership, things are changing for the better. Since the year 2001, the President has increased VA health care funding by more than 30 percent. This year alone, VA will care for 1.4 million more veterans than in the year 2000, and 194 new community-based clinics have opened to be more responsive to veterans’ needs.

I continue to express my support for concurrent receipt. This nation promised our servicemen and women that they would be cared for if they became disabled while serving. We also promised them a pension if they served long enough in our armed forces. Our veterans who are both disabled and long-serving should receive both benefits. North Carolina's disabled veterans have earned both.

The legislation enacted in the Fiscal Year 2003 National Defense Authorization Act was a beginning, restoring benefits to retirees with disabilities who were awarded the Purple Heart or who were severely disabled by combat-related activities, was a beginning. One significant achievement in the Fiscal Year 2004 National Defense Authorization Act was the further expansion of those benefits for a larger group of disabled military retirees. Special compensation will now be extended to all military retirees whose disabling condition was due to combat or combat-related operations. Additionally, concurrent receipt will be phased in over the next ten years for those retirees with non-combat related disabilities of fifty percent or greater. Admittedly, the fight is not over. We will work to find a solution that meets the goal of full concurrent receipt for all military retired eligible for disability benefits. We must fight for these veterans just as they have fought for us and our freedoms!

We must also continue to support those who are fighting for our freedoms now. We have the best equipped, most capable, most courageous military force in the world. They are fighting a daily battle in a war we all know requires steadfast commitment, both in the theater of battle and here at home.

I’m reminded of a letter I read recently from Marine Major General J.N. Mattis. His words were intended for the men and women of the First Marine Division, deployed to give reprieve to the 82nd Airborne Division currently serving in the Middle East. They were as encouraging as they were poignant. “You are going to write history, my fine young Sailors and Marines,” he said, “so write it well.”

And indeed, ladies and gentlemen, they are writing it well – in fact – they are writing pages of history with tales of heroism, courage, and compassion. I am in awe of the sacrifices made each and every day by our men and women in uniform in every branch of the military fighting the War on Terror.

Shortly after the attacks of September 11th Fred Cranford of Drexel, North Carolina talked about losing his 32-year-old son, Lieutenant Commander Eric Cranford, at the Pentagon. In the midst of a grief most of us cannot even imagine, Fred Cranford said, “Even out of evil, God can bring good things.” How right he was! While those terrorists intended their evil to divide this country – they have failed.

In fact, they have tried this tactic numerous times, and failed again and again. When terrorists attacked Bali, thinking it would weaken Indonesia’s resolve – they failed. They attacked synagogues and a British Cultural Center in Istanbul, Turkey hoping to divide that country - they failed. Today terrorists continue their cowardly attacks aimed at innocent Iraqis, humanitarian aid workers, and families of all nationalities. Their latest attempts to divide and conquer are failing. Now the United States must continue the mission - and ensure they continue to fail.

Our mission in the War on Terror has led to the liberation of 50 million people. We have captured or killed 46 of the 55 most wanted in Iraq, including Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi Governing Council signed the Transitional Administrative Law. This unprecedented framework promises long overdue civil rights for all Iraqis. It ensures freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly – and fundamental rights for women. Coalition forces have also rehabilitated 2,500 schools, renovated 240 hospitals, opened 1,200 health clinics, immunized 5 million children and helped initiate the publishing of 170 newspapers.

Because of our incredible armed forces we are moving forward in the War on Terror, and celebrating freedom with countries that feared they would never know the meaning of the word.

We are asking a lot of our servicemen and women right now. But this is not the first time we have called on good people to protect our country. Many of you here today are a testimony to that.

I am committed to building a strong and modern military. Thousands of young men and women from North Carolina have been called into harm’s way. With all of our state’s major military installations that include representatives of all the military services, our National Guard Brigade, and our Reserves fighting the Global War on Terror, North Carolina has taken a preeminent role in defending this great nation.

We must continue to give our armed forces, intelligence agencies and law enforcement the resources they need to keep America safe.

This past month my colleagues and I have been working intensely on the National Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 2005. This bill means great things for North Carolina military members. It authorizes more than $339 million for military construction and $58 million for family housing programs, and it provides for $27 million to fund improvements to facilities supporting North Carolina National Guard and Reserve forces. The bill also mandates a 3.5% pay raise as well as increased benefits for our men and women in uniform who have more than proven they deserve it!

But, what our troops need now more than anything is the steadfast support of a unified nation, a country proudly recognizing the mission of our soldiers and setting aside partisan politics. I was moved this week by words from the front lines, written by a Marine named Ben Connable, on his third deployment to the Middle East. Major Connable said, “I am not ignorant of the political issues; but as a professional, I have the luxury of putting politics aside and focusing on the task at hand. Protecting people from terrorists and criminals while building schools and lasting friendships is a good mission, no matter what brush it's tarred with. Nothing any talking head will say can deter me or my fellow Marines from caring about the people of Iraq, or take away from the sacrifices of our comrades. Fear in the face of adversity is human nature, and many people who take the counsel of their fears speak today. We are not deaf to their cries; neither do we take heed. All we ask is that Americans stand by us by supporting not just the troops, but also the mission. We'll take care of the rest.” Ladies and Gentlemen, the commitment our troops have to the mission at hand is built on the efforts of those who have gone before them, Veterans, heroes – like so many of you here today…As I look out at this audience this morning, I know many of you proudly served in World War II.

I am looking forward to celebrating the official opening of the World War II memorial in Washington later this week. I remember the crisp Veteran’s Day in the year 2000 when I was honored to be with 15,000 World War II veterans, their families and friends on the National Mall for the groundbreaking ceremony. Ten times as many veterans, family and friends will gather on the Mall when America honors these heroes by dedicating this national tribute to the sacrifice and achievement of the World War II generation.

I think specifically about the sacrifices made by my own husband. Bob returned from World War II years before I met him. Yet I know the story of his injury well. Bob fought on the front lines in World War II as part of the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. As he led his men to destroy a machine gun nest hidden in a farmhouse, a shell fragment shattered his shoulder and damaged his vertebrae. He was paralyzed. He spent 39 months in various hospitals, and doctors operated on him eight times.

To this day, my husband lives with those injuries, and endures them. He still remembers those left on the battleground, too. His life is not unlike the story of many veterans, I imagine.

Let me share with you a very poignant moment when Bob and I were dating, and he was visiting my parents in Salisbury. Bob appeared one morning in the kitchen as Mother was preparing breakfast, with a towel draped over his right shoulder. “Mrs. Hanford,” he told my mother, “I think you ought to see my problem.”

“That’s not a problem, Bob,” she told him. “That’s a badge of honor.”

And so it is with our Armed Forces…those returning home… those who’ve gone on… those who came back with a disability, as Bob did. They carry badges of honor for all that they’ve given this country.

We live in freedom because of those badges of honor. We live in freedom because of those sacrifices – your sacrifices.

As we near Memorial Day we honor each and every American’s commitment to our nation. The contributions made to the security of our country – indeed, the security of our world – contributions worthy of great praise. We recognize the dedication of all who have ever worn the uniform of the United States, the sacrifices of the thousands who never came home, their families, and the men and women who are fighting as we speak. On behalf of all of America - thank you for your service to this country.

May God bless you all and may God continue to bless this great land of the free, America.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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