Text of Gov. Perry’s Remarks at the American G.I. Forum Laredo
(Note: Governor Perry frequently deviates from prepared text.)
To my fellow veterans, the men and women here today who have served and sacrificed, who have fought and bled for the flag of freedom, who kept their covenant with a grateful nation. It is the highest of all honors to be with you.
America is strong and free for one simple reason: because of the courage and sacrifices of Her proud veterans!
It is good to be in the company of heroes, and to be back to a great Texas city of Laredo.
I see a lot of old warriors in this room today. With the years, you don’t move as swiftly as you once did, and your hair has turned gray. Some of you suffer from the lifelong scars of battle, and others suffer the scars of roughhousing with grandchildren.
But one thing has not changed. Just as you loved this nation, and fought proudly on her behalf many years ago, you proudly stand today as the legacy of freedom, and the true face of American patriotism.
Every breath of free air that we breathe is a tribute to your steadfast courage and your sacrificial love.
One of the heroes in this room is someone I would like to introduce to you. He is a veteran of combat in Vietnam, a decorated Marine, a recipient of the Purple Heart, and an individual I am proud to have serving as my deputy chief of staff, Jay Kimbrough.
Jay, will you please stand. Jay also has the added benefit of being a good South Texan! Thank you Jay.
Within the last year, all Americans have been reminded that freedom is never to be taken for granted, and its preservation comes at a great price.
On that darkest of all days – September 11th – we saw the worst of mankind, and the best of mankind. We saw the devastation that can occur at the hands of evil. And we saw the courage and sacrifice borne on the shoulders of men and women of high virtue.
And we saw something else that day, something that has been on my mind ever since.
As people rushed from the scene of danger, and others rushed in to save lives, some people were so covered with dust and debris that you literally could not determine their race or ethnicity.
At that moment, a person’s background or ethnicity seemed like a meaningless concern. When the lifeless body of a firehouse chaplain is carried away, or a child teetering between life and death is carried to an ambulance, the bond that matters most – the bond we all share – is the human bond.
Yes, we are Hispanic, Black, Asian and Anglo. We are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim. But above and beyond that, we’re all Americans.
And yes, despite what some liberal San Francisco judges may say, as the Pledge of Allegiance says, we are “one nation, under God!”
Of course, years ago, following the second world war, our veterans came home to a different America – a place where men were yet to be treated equally. And out of the ash of injustice, in 1948 a great organization was born – the American G.I. Forum.
The American G.I. Forum has empowered our Hispanic heroes who returned home from war simply wanting to live in peace, make a decent living and receive the benefits they are owed.
I am proud to announce to you this evening, in order to help the American G.I. Forum continue to train veterans for jobs, my office is awarding to your National Veterans Outreach Program another Wagner-Peyser Grant in the amount of $300,000.
This grant program makes a difference in the lives of those who served honorably and who deserve our appreciation and support.
By helping veterans access jobs and benefits they are owed, the American G.I. Forum is helping this nation to keep its promise. You should be proud. I know Hector Garcia would be.
His legacy lives today in the current membership of this great organization and in the actions of devoted citizens like Jesus Hernandez. The local chapter here bears the name of this good and decent man, and we all wish him good health, and God’s blessings.
The question for all of us who have inherited a nation of freedom protected by the blood of its soldiers is this: How can we ever repay our great debt of gratitude?
We can start by always remembering what you have done, and by honoring your sacrifices.
Three years ago, as your lieutenant governor, I gave the veterans of this state a louder voice by making the Senate Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee a full, standing committee with equal stature to every other committee in the senate.
Later that year we sent an important message about the value of military service by making it illegal to fire an employee just because they are called to serve.
And I was proud to stand with Senator Lucio in supporting a bill that entitles future Prisoners of War the right to a college scholarship, a bill that was named after Texas POW Steven Gonzales.
Last session we continued to prioritize both the needs of our veterans, and our active military personnel.
A constitutional amendment passed by the legislature and approved by voters authorized an additional $500 million for veteran home loans and cemeteries.
This new measure will allow more veterans to be buried closer to home so it is easier for family, friends and grateful neighbors to honor their service and lives.
We also doubled tuition assistance for military personnel attending a Texas college or university, making it the largest such scholarship program in the country.
And I was real proud to sign one other bill. Across Texas, our young boys – 17 and 18 years old – left for World War II at the calling of their nation, and before having the chance to finish high school.
Now, because of a new law in Texas, veterans who did not finish high school because of their service to our nation are finally eligible to receive the diploma they so richly deserve.
Today, I have an additional piece of good news. Before the last presidential election, the Clinton Administration issued a directive saying that polling places could no longer be located on military installations.
I believe that was wrong. Those who protect our democracy should not be dissuaded from participating in it.
Recently, President Bush signed a new law reinstating polling booths on military installations. Secretary of State Gwyn Shea will soon be informing base commanders, local county judges and elections administrators about how this new law will make it easier for our servicemen and women to have full access to the voting process.
In Texas, every vote must count. If we make it convenient for civilians to vote when they run to the store for a gallon of milk, then we ought to make it as easy as possible for our dedicated service personnel to vote as well!
I want you to know I stand with President Bush on another issue: it is time we passed a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from desecration. That flag flies today because of the blood you shed, and it is worthy of protection in our nation’s constitution.
Earlier this month, on June 6th, I had the great privilege of participating in a special tribute to the soldiers who liberated Europe in a ceremony where the French government provided those veterans certificates of appreciation.
My father, Ray Perry, was among those veterans recognized.
I think often about what my dad, and his fellow soldiers, were thinking each morning as they awoke to a world at war, and a fate of uncertainty that permeated their every day.
He was just a poor kid from the country, an 18-year old boy manning a tailgun on a B-17.
What could have gone through his mind when his B-17 roared down the runway on one of his 35 missions? What was he thinking when enemy flak whistled past his ear? How did he feel when he lost his waist-gunner on their sixth mission and his eighteenth birthday?
Those who survived that war – who avoided the enemy mines, the machine gun fire, the snipers – they often say very little about it. The children of my generation who gather at the funerals of these men often say things like: “I had no idea what dad did during the war. He never really talked about it.”
It is easy for some to glorify war. But not for the veterans of war. You have seen the great destruction of it, the waste of young lives, and you prefer to think about peace.
To all the men here today who fought on foreign soil to defend America, who served among heroes who never made it home, who were there as they breathed their last breath, resting in your arms, who wrote notes home to their loved one’s to comfort them, and tell them what is was like to serve with them – we, the people of a grateful nation, offer our profound thanks.
As a nation, we must never allow such sacrifices to be taken for granted. We must always remember them, and honor them.
And each remaining day that you have on this earth, is a day when your voice must be heard.
That is what democracy is about, and that is what you risked your lives to protect.
And while many of the issues that effect veterans are addressed on the federal level, there is much a state can do, as we have done for the last four years.
And as a proud veteran myself, as someone who wore the uniform of our nation, and flew C-130 tactical aircraft around the globe, I want you to know I will never forget what you have done for freedom.
I will never forget who risked life and limb. I will never turn my back, or give lip service, to your accomplishments and your great legacy. My door will always be open to you because your sacrifices ensured that it could be.
May God bless you, and may the voice of our nation’s veterans always be heard. And may we remain one nation, under God!
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