Veterans of Foreign Wars 2006 Convention
Thank you State Adjutant Quartermaster Gardner. Commander (Duane) Shriver, President (Jo Ella) Menn, fellow elected officials, friends and fellow Texans: I am both honored and humbled to be in the presence of so many American heroes, the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Today I bring the gratitude of 22 million Texans who know that the flag of freedom flies only because of the service and sacrifice of American veterans.
Thank you for answering freedom’s call.
To the wonderful members of Ladies Auxiliary, and to every friend and family member here today, thank you for providing the love and support that is essential for all who serve.
It is a fitting tribute that the chroniclers of history now call the 20th Century the great American Century.
There is no better description for a period shaped and defined by the courage of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
When mankind faced its darkest hours, when millions of human beings around the world saw the last glimmer of hope give way to the black night of fascism, communism and totalitarianism, it was the American serviceman who stood up and said, “The light of liberty will not be extinguished on my watch.”
The heroes of the American Century didn’t do it for glory or fame or medals, but because they had a sense of decency, a sense of purpose and an understanding that freedom is not free.
That is something my father instilled in me growing up.
As a World War II tailgunner who flew 35 missions over war-torn Europe, my dad was a member of the greatest generation, those who confronted evil with courage, who liberated millions without claiming one ounce of foreign soil except that which was suitable to bury their fallen friends.
Like many of you, he saw things no 19-year old boy should ever see, including his waist-gunner being killed on his 18th birthday.
For him, sacrifice was not some word used in speeches, it was real and it was personal.
And it came with a great price.
I not only learned that from my dad’s service, but during the four years I flew C-130 tactical airlift in the United States Air Force.
We weren’t the fastest bird in the sky, but I am darn proud to be called a certified trash hauler.
Seeing so many different regions of the world impressed upon me the uniqueness and greatness of this nation we call home.
And what makes this nation the greatest force for freedom in the world is not the poet, the politician or the professor, it is the fighting man and woman of the United States Military.
The legacy of this nation’s veterans is one beyond value.
It is a legacy that lives on in hearts of free people in South Korea, Japan and Kuwait, in Germany, Italy, the Eastern Block and countless places the United States has confronted and conquered the forces of tyranny.
And it is a legacy that continues today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where American forces serve with the same spirit of courage and honor.
This is a unique and critical time in our nation’s history.
In many ways it seems familiar.
America is once again waging a war against evil, a war to liberate the oppressed, and protect the free, a war that, while started by cowards, will be ended by the courage and might of the greatest fighting force on the face of the earth.
But in other ways, this is a remarkably different time in America.
Since the great conflicts that defined the American Century, our enemies have evolved, the nature of warfare has evolved, and our culture has changed dramatically.
45 years ago, when President Kennedy said that America would pay any price and bear any burden to ensure the survival of liberty, he was expressing and encouraging the clear consensus of the culture: that freedom’s price, though great, must be paid by some, or none will be free.
That consensus was largely reflected in the media coverage during and immediately after the world wars.
It is interesting to note that the very term “the American Century” was first coined by a leading figure in the national media, Time Magazine publisher Henry Luce, who used the phrase in an editorial calling on America to join the battle and defend freedom against Hitler’s unbridled aggression.
It is a bitter irony and a sad commentary that today, some media outlets such as the New York Times not only attack America’s actions in the War on Terror at every opportunity, but actually publish secret intelligence information that will hinder our efforts in the fight against terrorism.
If you listen to the national media today, you might believe that America no longer has the stomach to bear the burdens of freedom.
That is because the perspective you get in the national press is almost exclusively that of politicians, professors and protestors.
But I am here to tell you that the perspective of the ones actually doing the job is vastly different.
Several months ago I had the honor of visiting our troops serving in Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Their spirits were high, and their confidence in the cause stronger than ever.
They asked me to send a message when I got home.
They said, “Governor, tell Texans the national media has it wrong- we are winning this war!”
Like those who served before them, the men and women serving today know that for freedom to prevail, America must persevere.
And they know we face only one choice in the War on Terror: either we fight in the mountains of Asia and the deserts of the Middle East, or on the streets of New York, Washington, D.C. and Houston.
That is why, while I am so proud of how we are taking the fight to the enemy, it mystifies me that we are leaving our front door wide open to those who seek us harm.
Let me put this in clear terms: the greatest threat to American freedom today is a porous and unsecured border.
Our 1,200 mile border with Mexico is viewed as a prime point of entry by terrorist organizations, criminal gangs and drug traffickers.
We know this based on intelligence and based on apprehensions.
Yet, despite this growing threat, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to cut funding for Texas by 31 percent.
That is why Texas is not waiting on Washington to act.
Six months before the president announced National Guard soldiers would help secure the border, Texas had already made that decision.
We are leveraging the National Guard’s unique capabilities to support local law enforcement.
With millions of dollars from my office, we have substantially increased investigators and patrols along the border.
The result has been a major reduction in crime and a major disruption in the day-to-day activities of international drug cartels and human smuggling rings.
I have also authorized the use of state trooper strike teams, covert surveillance units, canine tracking teams, DPS helicopters, and the Texas Civil Air Patrol to help border sheriffs and police stop illegal activity.
And I will ask the legislature to dedicate $100 million to fund these border security initiatives until the federal government starts enforcing our sovereign border with Mexico.
In addition, with the voluntary participation of private landowners, we will begin posting surveillance cameras at criminal hotspots and along common routes used to illegally enter this country.
Landowners will be able to monitor and defend their property from those who might endanger their families.
We will make the video feed available to state, local and federal law enforcement agencies so that they can respond swiftly and appropriately as needed.
And we will post this video on the Internet, in real time, so that concerned Americans can do their patriotic duty, and help protect our nation through online neighborhood watch programs.
Make no mistake: defending America from enemies foreign and domestic has always been and will always be a federal responsibility.
But Texas will not sit idly by while the safety of our communities and the freedom of our nation are threatened.
If that means spending hundreds of millions dollars more in state money to do a federal job, let it be known that Texans are willing to pay any price and bear any burden to ensure the survival of freedom.
To do anything less would be to dishonor the legacy of the veterans who purchased freedom with blood.
Every American who has served this nation has a special place in our history, and a special place in the hearts of their countrymen.
The veteran who defends freedom on the field of battle must have the opportunity to pursue the blessings of freedom when he or she comes home.
For every veteran, that includes access to the benefits that have been promised so that all can live a life of dignity.
And for those who make the greatest of sacrifices, that means ensuring that the honor and dignity of their lives is reflected at the time they are laid to eternal rest.
That is why I am proud to have signed a bill that makes it a crime for protestors to disrupt a military funeral.
Free speech does not mean the freedom to dishonor the Americans who died securing that freedom.
Though we can never repay the tremendous sacrifice of our veterans, we must live each day as if we could: reaffirming that their heroic deeds will always be remembered and making the most of the blessings of freedom everyday the flag of freedom flies over this great land.
To all of you who have answered the call of duty, who have stood in harm’s way to protect the American Way, I offer the salute of an indebted son and a grateful governor.
May you live every day you have left with pride, dignity and honor.
You have earned it.
And may the rest of us never forget it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.
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