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Senator Chuck Hagel Honors Veterans at Vietnam Memorial

Aired May 28, 2001 - 13:30   ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And we are going to take you now to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington for the annual Memorial Day observance there. Six names will be added on to the memorial today. That's part of the dedication. We are about to hear a keynote address by Senator Chuck Hagel and some music from a man named Danoff, Bill Danoff, who wrote the song "Take Me Home, Country Roads." We're about to hear that. That will be followed by Chuck Hagel.

As Bruce Morton reported earlier, there are huge crowds at the memorial again this year, as there are every year. Some of them come to do the name-rubbing at the memorial, just to visit, to leave photographs or the flowers or the like. Again, this year it will be the addition of six more names of the veterans who have died since the wall was erected and since the Vietnam War, and they will be honored today and the celebration will continue throughout most of the afternoon.

And we are going to pick up part of it now.

JAN SCRUGGS, VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL FUND: To perform a special tune for us today.

BILL DANOFF, MUSICIAN: I'm honored to be here to sing this song for you in honor of all of those who didn't come home.


SCRUGGS: Nice to have a musical interlude in our ceremonies, and the keynote speaker today is a decorated military veteran of the Vietnam War who served side by side with his brother, Tom, as infantry squad leaders with the Army's Ninth Division in Vietnam.

After a very good and successful career in the private sector, he was elected the United States senator from Nebraska in 1996. Since joining the Senate, he has served as deputy whip for the Republican Party and serves on four Senate committees: Foreign Relations, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Energy and Natural Resources and the Budget Committee as well.

Mr. Tom Brokaw of NBC called him a rising star in Washington, and he certainly earned the respect and admiration of Republicans and Democrats alike. He has also been involved with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund since 1980 and is co- chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Corporate Council. Ladies and gentlemen, a rousing round of applause for the honorable Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Jan, thank you very much and thank you. Thank you.


HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you. Good afternoon.


HAGEL: He's a cornhusker, ladies and gentlemen. Forgive him.

I am grateful. Thank you.

First, allow me to thank Jan Scruggs, his board, the National Parks Service, Diane Evans, all who have worked tirelessly over the last 20 years to make this a reality; this being this very special monument, part of our culture, part of Americana.

I add my special greetings to the veterans today, their families, the families of veterans, and in particular, the families of the six Vietnam veterans whose names will be added to the wall in a few minutes. Thank you.

Next year, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial. This is a uniquely American response to a defining time in our history. It was done through private enterprise, individual leadership. We didn't ask government to do it, but the people did it.

Under the very able leadership of a former plain-spoken corporal in Vietnam, Jan Scruggs -- incidentally, a corporal who had that opportunity on a couple of occasions, maybe more -- it was because of the individuals, the veterans, their families in this country that we have this wall, this monument today.

The question of why still hangs heavy over this sacred ground. Why did these men and women go? Why did they die? For what?

"The Washington Times" today reprinted General Douglas MacArthur's speech to West Point in 1962. Those of you who have not had an opportunity to review that speech recently should pick up "The Washington Times" and re-read General MacArthur's speech.

Interestingly enough, as you read that speech that he gave almost 40 years ago, he talks to these young cadets about a new time in our history, a new challenge, a new world, meaning policies and responses relevant to that challenge. But the one anchor, the one foundation that has never changed and will never change is what MacArthur ended his speech on, and that is what you know and you live: Duty, honor, country. And isn't it interesting, exactly 20 years after that MacArthur speech at West Point, the Vietnam Veteran Memorial was built. How could he have known that there would be such an effort made in a very different way. But thread throughout his speech was every indication that we were such a people.

What if America had not made a stand in Vietnam? Back to our question why. Would Asia, would the Pacific, indeed, all of the world look any different today? I think so. Are we grasping for an excuse? I don't think so.

America has carried a very heavy, and at times very unfair burden because of its position in the world. We didn't ask for it, but we would not trade it. With that heavy burden comes grave responsibility, serious responsibilities. Without America, there would be no stability in the world. And without our commitment to things bigger and greater than our own self-interest, there would be questionable American security.

And just as MacArthur advised his cadets 40 years ago, Vietnam was part of that responsibility, as was Korea, as was Desert Storm, and as was Bosnia, Kosovo. We understand that war is not antiseptic. War is unfair, it's brutal, it's cruel, dirty, and only suffering in war, no glory. And we were certainly reminded of that most recently in the Bob Kerrey incident.

But we have responsibilities, not to the world; we have responsibilities to our sons and daughters. We have responsibilities to the future generations of this country. Just as the World War I and World War II generations took their responsibilities seriously to my generation.

That is the greatness and the uniqueness of America. Each generation leaves this country better and stronger than they found it. Flawed, imperfect, bad decisions, wrong decisions, yes, but so it is with the responsibility of leadership. Leadership is not about theory; leadership is about hard choices, and not deferring tough decisions, and you make mistakes.

But inaction has consequences as well, and sometimes more severe than wrong action. I often refer to the words of an old, dear friend, a two-tour special forces veteran of Vietnam. He lost his last battle with cancer about 15 years ago, Dean Phillips (ph), who rests under the gentle, peaceful, evergreen canopy across the river in Arlington. Dean Phillips always said to me, as he did to others, never lose sight of what's most important in your life: your god, your country, your family, and your friends.

He always said and in his last days, he said it often, they fortify you and they give your life meaning.

So it was in Vietnam. There was a nobleness of purpose. We can debate how Vietnam was fought, the mistakes made, but for the families of the over 58,000 men and women whose names are on this wall and for the almost 2,000 men and women missing, it is important that they understand that their sons and daughters did not waste a very important commitment to this country.

Hanging in my Capitol Hill office is a frame containing some wise words: "Let us give thanks. Nature is beautiful, friends are dear, and duty lies close ahead." Ladies and gentlemen, and our veterans and our families, I salute you. Thank you.


SCRUGGS: We'd like to thank Senator Hagel for the wonderful speech. He is very committed to America's youth, and is actually leading the effort to create a small education center on the site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and this time next year we should just about be breaking ground on that.

Before the wreath-laying today, let me acknowledge the family members of the six servicemen whose names were recently added to the wall. Some are on the dais behind me today, some in the audience. Mike Smith, the brother of one of those whose names has been engraved, will read all of the names at this time.

MIKE SMITH, BROTHER OF VIETNAM VETERAN: Wayne Edward Benge, United States Army; Edward Pellow Cooper, United States Navy; Thomas Calvert Finn, United States Army; Benjamin Ruben Montano, United States Army; Chester Randy Odom III, United States Army; Specialist Billy Morrison Smith, United States Army Special Forces.


SCRUGGS: Ladies and gentlemen, we will now begin the wreath- laying at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The first wreath will be laid at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by United States Senator Charles Hagel from Nebraska, accompanied by Washington singer and songwriter, Mr. Bill Danoff. The second wreath to be laid...

WATERS: We will be unable to see this wreath-laying, which will go on at the Memorial Day service at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The main purpose on this Memorial Day is to add the six new names to the wall, bringing the number to 58,226 on this Memorial Day 2001.



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