Thank you, John (Gant). Good afternoon. I am honored to be part of this program.
This is a very personal, very meaningful holiday for me. You see, my father is a veteran. He came to this country as an immigrant and he understood the importance of defending liberty. He had watched political freedom slowly die in Italy. He knew that Mussolini and his kind wanted to extinguish democracy and the light of liberty, in Italy and everywhere else. And my father opposed that view, opposed them. He loved freedom...he assumed most people wanted freedom. Well, he knew he wanted to preserve it, that he would fight for freedom, even die for it.
So he enlisted. The Army sent him to the Pacific Theater where he fought with distinction and honor. And when victory was assured, he came home...home to shouts of joy, tears of gratitude, and love...love from all of us...his family, his neighbors. It seemed that most of New York State eventually came by the house.
Of course, we are very proud of him...you should hear my mother talk, especially about the day he came home, safe, handsome in his uniform, and proud to be an American. Many of the families of veterans have the same reactions and memories of that first moment of reunion.
As a nation, we've always had a profound gratitude for our veterans, all the way back to those who fought for independence. In fact, our first president was a veteran. That feeling of gratitude became a national day of remembrance in 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation creating "Armistice Day" to signify the end of the First World War. That was almost ninety years ago. We went a step further in 1938, seventy years ago, when Armistice Day became a national holiday. And in 1954, fifty-four years ago, President Eisenhower changed the name to "Veterans Day."
Whatever the name, this is the day where we honor our veterans. They protected and defended this country. Out of loyalty, duty, and patriotism, they stood on the frontlines, often in harm's way, so the rest of us could live in freedom, safety, and security. We thank them for their service and sacrifice.
Today, as a department, we share in that expression of gratitude and thanksgiving. We are proud of our veterans, the HUD veterans, our colleagues who have come to HUD after military service, people like John Gant, Robert Walker, and so many other employees. We know that our veterans embody the mission of this department, our efforts to help Americans in need. We know that their spirit of duty and sacrifice can inspire each of us to higher levels of public service.
This year has a special significance. It is the ninetieth anniversary of the end of World War I. There is one American veteran still alive from that conflict. His name is Frank Buckles and he is 107 years old, living over in Charlestown, West Virginia. He lied about his age and joined up at 16, off to fight for freedom. Frank has a farm...evidently still drives his tractor, tilling the soil. He remembers that first Armistice Day...he remembers them all since. And he sits on his porch, gazing across the fields, and remembers those who have passed on. He still remembers names and faces and their stories.
Today, we join him in that remembrance, and we remember those doughboys marching on to transport ships, crossing the ocean cramped into cargo holds and hallways, falling in line to leave the ships after docking, piling into trucks and onto trains, off to the trenches in France. When they received the order to advance, they did, facing shell and shock, bullets and bayonets, with terrible casualties, but with eventual military success. I simply cannot imagine the 20th Century without their victory, the way they saved Europe. We literally would have lived through a different century without those doughboys, without people who stepped forward like Frank Buckles.
And we remember those who have come after Frank, people like my father, men and women who cared so much for this nation and for all of us, that they joined the military, placing themselves at risk, to serve our country.
So I am honored to join you in thanking our veterans for their commitment to our nation and for a job well done. To each HUD veteran, I salute you. You bring great distinction to this department and its work.
Thank you and God bless you all.