Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks this morning at a groundbreaking ceremony for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. The memorial will be the nation's first permanent public tribute to the more than 3 million living disabled American veterans. Below are the Speaker's remarks.
“Good morning. And what a beautiful morning it is, so appropriate that we have a perfect day to take an action, as the Chaplain said, that it is appropriate for us to do.
“I want to thank Secretary Principi--we Italian-Americans take great pride in each other's work. And I thank him for his generous introduction and for his service, winning the Bronze Star for valor in the Navy and earning respect of our nation's veterans as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Secretary, we are all very proud of you, and it is appropriate that you lead our presentation today.
“It is an honor to be here with Secretary Eric Shinseki, a great leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs--he, too, a decorated soldier in his own right, firmly committed to the health, well-being, and future of all veterans. Thank you, Secretary Shinseki. I first met him in Bosnia, just outside of Sarajevo. We went to visit him there to see his leadership, his concern for our troops. Our subject then was troop protection, force protection, and that has always been your priority, as well as the security of the American people.
“I would like to acknowledge, and join the Secretary in acknowledging, so many people who were responsible for making today possible, who also are so responsible for protecting the American people--Bobby Barrera, Chairman of the Board, Lois Pope, Co-Founder and Chairman, Arthur Wilson, Co-Founder and President, and all of the leaders of the Disabled Veterans' LIFE Memorial Foundation for your dedication to this cause and for your determination to do right by our wounded soldiers.
“And Gary Sinise, thank you for serving as the national spokesperson for this memorial. In doing so, and as his service to our country, always being there for our veterans, he has matched the brilliance of his celebrity with the dedication and passion and commitment to our veterans.
“Very generously, the Secretary referenced my family. Four of my brothers were veterans who served in the military. When I was a girl, my father brought the Baltimore Orioles to Maryland, and they had to build a stadium. And when they built the stadium--what would they name it? There was all kinds of competition. But it was clear the consensus choice would be to call it Baltimore Memorial Stadium, in honor of the service of our veterans so that everyone who went there would always know that as we went forward we did so with our veterans and those who lost their lives in their hearts.
“It said on that stadium: ‘Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.' Every memorial to our veterans shares that thought. And so too does today's memorial.
“I want to acknowledge Mr. Rogers, soon to be Chairman. And also I want to acknowledge those who made this legislation possible. In the Senate, Max Cleland and John McCain--bipartisan all the way. In the House, Congressman Sam Johnson, a decorated war hero, and the late Congressman John Murtha. I am sorry that Jack Murtha can't be around or here with us today because this was such a high priority for him. There was no question that the funding for this memorial would happen. And so I want to acknowledge all of their strong leadership.
“Today, in breaking ground on the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, we set down a marker in that same tradition - to remember the true cost of war, as the Secretary said, the cost of war and conflict to our troops and their families.
“We pay tribute to the sacrifice of those who served and came home changed forever but not their spirit, just physically and gave part of their lives abroad so that we could be safe at home. In a bipartisan way, we in Congress know that protecting the American people is our first responsibility. And our veterans do just that. And when they are disabled, we need to be there for them and make sure everyone remembers the sacrifice.
“President Kennedy--who was elected President 50 years ago this week--said we will pay any price. You know the rest of the quote. Pay any price. Many of you have paid more of a price than the rest of us. We need to acknowledge that in every way.
“Again, as the Secretary said, I am very proud of the work that was done in the Congress for our veterans. But I want to make the additional point that when we did the New GI Bill and increased the timely and reliable funding for the VA and the veterans' budget, passed the large increase in veterans' health care, invested billions of dollars for our veterans, these were priorities that the veterans brought to us. There are so many needs. And we do meet on a regular basis so as to say, ‘What are the priorities? Is it the veterans disability tax? Concurrent receipt? Survivor benefits? What are the priorities?'
“And those were our marching orders. So I thank my colleagues for their leadership, but more important than that, I thank the veterans' community for making all of that possible under the leadership of President Barack Obama.
“Together, all these accomplishments are bigger than anything since the original GI Bill of 1944. I think as we come together here, it is important to acknowledge that we still have some needs that we have to address. We will fight to ensure that veterans' health does not become privatized. It is very important for us. But again, we need your priorities to go forward.
“In the name of all veterans - past, present, and future - we break ground today to ensure that time does not dim the glory of their deeds; that time holds their deeds in the highest esteem; that, like the flame at the center of this memorial, the flame of their deeds burns eternal. Very important.
“My uncle, Johnny D'Alesandro, died at the Battle of the Bulge. There wasn't a day that went by that my father didn't mourn the loss of his brother, but he also took enormous pride that his brother, our family, sacrificed for our country. And so the tributes to those who lost their lives continue. But today, we take a very specific step in recognizing those who were disabled and who still continue to contribute to this strength of America in so many ways.
“As we approach Veterans Day, we reaffirm our commitment to honor the patriotism, the courage, and service of all of our men and women in uniform. Whether they are in the theater of battle or wherever they serve our country, because of them, because of you, we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“In building this memorial, we are taking a critical step forward in fulfilling our pledge: that just as our troops leave no one behind on the battlefield, when they come home, we leave no veteran behind.
“Thank you to all of you who are working to make this memorial a reality.
“God bless our veterans. God has truly blessed America with our veterans. And God bless America. Thank you all very much.”