Remarks upon receiving the Bradley Award
15 June 2016
Thank you, it’s a great pleasure to be here, and I thank the selection committee and the Bradley Foundation’s Board of Directors for honoring me with the Bradley Prize tonight.
Hanging on the wall in my foundation office in Los Angeles is a print of a painting by Norman Rockwell. The Long Shadow of Lincoln, named from a poem of the same name written in 1945 by Carl Sandburg for the February 10th edition of the Saturday Evening Post.
Rockwell’s painting is a powerful piece of work. During the final chapter of WW II, the most devastating war in human history, the artist drew his inspiration from the last paragraph of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address that reads: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Magnificent words and a powerful message as the civil war was coming to an end. Among the many characters in the painting, The Long Shadow of Lincoln depicts the wounded American soldier with an amputated leg, who must learn a new way of life, the builder who will help put a shattered world together, the cross draped with dog tags, the grieving family of a fallen warrior.
I keep this painting in a place of prominence as a constant reminder that there is a terrible cost, and a price paid, for the blessing of our precious freedom. Yet, as seen in the faces and attitudes of the everyday Americans in this somber portrait, there is a resilience to carry on, to rebuild, to learn, to reach out a helping hand to our fellow citizens, and a determination and yearning to build a better world.
I see this same resilience in the men and women I have had the privilege to meet over the years who have served, or are currently serving, our country in the armed services at home and abroad. I am constantly inspired by their strength. But I know that they cannot always be that way. They have to find it within themselves to keep their resolve through difficult times, and it is a good feeling to know that there is something that I can do to help them through those times.
We are so fortunate to live in a free society.
Having stood on the border between North and South Korea a few times, I can tell you there is probably no place on earth where one can feel the difference between freedom and slavery more, than standing there, staring
into the eyes of a North Korean soldier, standing just a few feet away.
One year ago, on my third trip to the DMZ, two soldiers from the north walked toward us, and right up to the borderline. I could see the whites of their eyes.
Distant, haunted, sad.
For 63 years these soldier’s, their families, and their fellow North Koreans, have been enslaved, forced to worship and serve the supreme leader, while all those years ago, the people in the south were far more fortunate.
Since the military action was halted in 1953, the United States military, along with the army of the Republic of Korea, has provided a defense and security, and the people of South Korea have lived free because of it.
One military force on the Korean peninsula is there to oppress, to prohibit freedom, striking fear into the hearts of the people. Another military is there to provide freedom to its citizens.
Two nations, one flourishes, the other starves in darkness.
Freedom is truly a precious thing.
Many years ago, when I began actively supporting our veterans, it became abundantly clear that we can never do enough for those who serve and sacrifice in freedom’s defense. But I also learned that we can always do something more.
And while government certainly has a great responsibility and must always work to do a much better job to serve the needs of those it sends into harm’s way, our country was not founded on We, The Government.
It was built on We, The People.
Government will never meet all the needs, and in many cases, as we know all too well from the media reports, veterans are still constantly bogged down in a bloated bureaucracy, and lost in red tape.
But We, The People, have a responsibility as well.
These are “our” defenders.
They are our fellow citizens, our fathers, and mothers, sisters, and brothers, sons and daughters, our families…
How can we, as Americans who benefit from the sacrifices of this courageous few, ignore the challenges faced by the men and women who have bravely fought for this country? We can’t.
And so very simply, if every freedom loving citizen in every neighborhood, in every community, in every town and city, in every state, would make it a priority to do what we can to serve and honor the needs of the veterans and military families within those communities… many of whom have come home physically or mentally injured and may face many dark moments ahead … if we, “the people”, will do our part to serve above self to help them move forward, then we will see far fewer veterans and military families struggling and falling through the cracks.
Having supported veterans over the years, after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, I began to do everything in my power to pitch in to serve and support those who were answering the call in response, now our nation’s longest war.
And in this dangerous 21st century, with all the evils in the world and the many enemies of freedom getting stronger, is there any doubt that the call will come again, and again?
Many years prior to his election as president of the United States, on March 30th, 1961, in a speech given to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, the great Ronald Reagan said,
“Our Founding Fathers, here in this country, brought about the only true revolution that has ever taken place in man’s history. Every other revolution simply exchanged one set of rulers for another set of rulers. But only here, did that little band of men, so advanced beyond their time that the world has never seen their like since, evolve the idea that you and I have, within ourselves, the God-given right and the ability to determine our own destiny.
But freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them with the well-thought lessons of how they, in their lifetime, must do the same.
And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
I thank God every day for the men and women of our nation’s military who are willing to fight for freedom, to protect it, to defend it, so that we may have the opportunity to spend our years looking ahead with promise and optimism and hope, as freedom is preserved for our children, and our children’s children.
Thank you, to all the veterans who are here tonight.
As long as I am able, I will continue to do all I can to stand strong for you, and I hope that my military and veterans support the foundation, will serve as a reliable and trusted resource for many years to come.
It is a great privilege to receive this wonderful honor from the Bradley Foundation. By acknowledging my work, you also highlight and support the work of the Gary Sinise Foundation in our mission to support our nation’s defenders. For that, I am truly grateful. And I hope that by shining a light on me tonight, we will, in turn, shine a brighter beacon of light on our veterans and those still in harms way.
I pray that the sacrifice of our fallen heroes will never be forgotten, or in vain.
God bless you all,
And may God continue to watch over all those serving in defense of this great country.