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Updated: 12 min 57 sec ago

Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Portrait Unveiling in Honor of Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the Pentagon Courtyard

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 14:56
Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Portrait Unveiling in Honor of Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the Pentagon Courtyard Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, May 19, 2017 CHAPLAIN:  I invite you to join with me in prayer.  Let us pray.  Father, we thank you for this beautiful day as we honor the life and decades of selfless service to the nation of Secretary Chuck Hagel.  We are grateful for his leadership of our military at a time of severe threat to our country and war.  We thank you for his service to the nation as not only Defense secretary, but also United States senator, deputy administration of the V.A. and a soldier.  We are especially reminded of his heroic service as an infantryman in Vietnam.  

Your word tells us there is no greater love than one lay down his life for his friend and Secretary Hagel has literally lived that ethos and given the next generation of warriors a great example to follow. 

And finally, we pray for all of our deployed warriors at this very moment wherever they are.  Protect them, strengthen them and bring them home safely to their families.  We pray this in Jesus name, amen.

ANNOUNCER:  Please be seated.

Ladies and gentlemen, the secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis. (Applause.)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  As the chaplain said, it's a beautiful day.  And I mentioned to Secretary Hagel and his family when they came to the office that some things are work and some things are just pure joy, and this is one of the latter.  And I think in light of the number of senators, secretaries, generals, admirals, undersecretaries, in light of the number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines here, I would just tell you, Mr. Secretary, you get a sense of the affection that is held for you in the Department of Defense.

Secretary Hagel, it is good to have you back in the building.  The last time, ladies and gentlemen, the secretary and I were together he was presiding over my change of command, so it's a special delight to have him back here today.  I've been taking notes while I had him in the office about how to do this job, you all understand.  Lilibet, thank you for coming so much.  Tom and Michael, brothers, Cathy for coming out today on this perfect Washington, D.C. day, complete with heat.  It's great to have you here.

I've been the executive secretary for two secretaries of defense.  I've been the senior military assistant for two deputy secretaries of defense, and even with that perspective, after a little over 100 days in the job, I can just tell you that nobody understands this job other than those who have been in it before.  I know that I didn't understand it even as closely as I was watching it day after day for years.

Our former secretary was an Army sergeant wounded in action and he rose to the very top of our department.  He served as a representative, a U.S. senator, from Nebraska and he's one who I believe has represented all that is great about America, one who has put service to others before self and from the firefight of Vietnam to the halls of Congress then to the Pentagon and to our field and fleet unit, he has stood strong all those years.  His example, I believe ladies and gentlemen, is the sort of stuff that we call the North Star that guides us all, that keeps this experiment in democracy, and that's all it is is an experiment and we call it America, he keeps that experiment alive to pass on to the next generation in this often hostile world.

Secretary Hagel, your selfless sacrifice and devotion to duty represents the finest sense of our national spirit.  It is through this national spirit hoisted aloft by examples such as yours that our finest men and women are inspired to volunteer their service to a cause larger than self, to prize honor more than wealth, to forgo the easy path in pursuit of something greater (inaudible) for a life of purpose.  

In life, people can be classified into two general groups; ones who play it safe and stay in the shallow end of the swimming pool and those who go out into the deep ocean with all its treacherous currents.  There is no doubt that the man we are here to honor today has spent his entire life swimming in such an ocean, and that during the journey, his North Star was service to the nation, to the country before self.  He lived it, strong morals developed from a solid upbringing, and that holds true for Secretary Hagel.

Like Secretary Hagel, I grew up west -- far west of this town here on the Potomac.  He was raised in small towns across Nebraska, America's heartland, by his parents Charlie and Betty, a father who was a veteran of World War II where he served as a B-25 Mitchell Bomber tail gunner in the South Pacific and a mother who worked day and night to provide for her four sons.  His parents were just one of the many positive influences, as members of the American Legion of Veterans of Foreign Wars were mainstays of the town's culture.  This upbringing, this immersion in American ideal, would lead Secretary Hagel to later remark, and I want to quote here, service meant -- sound familiar, Mr. Secretary?  "Service meant that when your country called, you answered the call.  It would never have occurred to anyone to question it.  If the president said he needed you, that was enough."

With that sentiment in mind, he answered the nation's call and volunteered in -- for Vietnam in 1967, along with his brother Tom who joined shortly thereafter.  They served side by side in the Army's 9th Infantry Division.  When on point, one brother would break the jungle ahead while the other was on the compass.  Two brothers, two volunteers in the tradition of those who fought with Washington, who answered Lincoln's call and those who were part of the greatest generation, a tradition of patriots and these two lads, like so many others, voluntarily shouldered the patriot's burden.

During Vietnam, the best went off to fight, little knowing that one would come home to later serve as the secretary of defense.  So the Hagel family knows service.  Secretary Hagel's brother Michael has also inspired thousands of service members and civilians with his paintings commemorating acts of valor.

Some have graced the Pentagon for more than 25 years, capturing there, for all of us to reflect upon, in paintings.  

In 1989, he painted one of the most famous missions of the Fifth Air Force during World War II, the raid on Simpson Harbor -- a painting that hung on the wall in Chairman Colin Powell's office before being moved to Secretary Hagel's office during his tenure -- a painting which now graces my outer office.  

Michael volunteered his time and talent to paint the portrait that we will soon unveil here before you.  

Sir, as secretary of defense, you championed significant steps forward for America's fighting force, modernizing America's partnerships and alliances abroad, advancing the rebalance to the Pacific, enhancing defense cooperation in the Middle East, launching the Defense Innovation Initiative and leading a major initiative that accounted for personnel missing in action.  

I could go on, ladies and gentlemen, but we would be here all day, because his was a -- a policy of initiative, not of simply sitting back and watching things happen.  

Secretary Hagel, you, Lilibet, Tom and Michael should sense the immense pride we all share in your family's long lineage of service to the ideals that make this nation great, for there can be no happiness if the things we do are not the same things that we believe in. 

While this painting will memorialize Secretary Hagel, it can never fully define the raw debt we owe him for a lifetime of service, for his raw example of courage, and it's going to live with us all forever.  

Secretary Hagel, if you would please join me in unveiling your portrait.  

STAFF:  Ladies and gentlemen, the official portrait of the Honorable Chuck Hagel, 24th secretary of defense.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, the honorable Chuck Hagel.  

FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL:  Secretary Mattis, thank you, and thank you for your many, many years of distinguished service and leadership to this country.

If there was a time when America needed wise, steady leadership in the world, in everything we do and represent, it is now, and you embody that wise, steady, experienced leadership that this country and the world looks to at -- at this time in this world, and in this time in our country. 

And to you again, Jim, it's a real privilege to be with you, and thank you for your very generous comments.  

And thanks to all the professionals here at the Pentagon for all your time and your hard work in organizing this event, especially my former Senate assistant and former chief of protocol, Adrienne Schweer, who put a lot of time in assuring that this not only would happen, but happen the right way, with the right people.  And I am grateful to Adrienne, and all who worked so hard to do this.

And also, thank you to all who are here whom I had the great privilege to work with during my two years as secretary of defense.  Thank you for your continued service.  Thank you for your continued service to our country and all you did to assist me as we work together for the American people.

This is a special day for my family and me.  To have played a small role in this department's important responsibilities, and have had the opportunity to serve with men and women whose dedication to our country is unparalleled has been a true honor.  To be remembered by the hanging of my portrait near those who have gone before me is humbling.

Every man and woman who has ever served in this nation's defense enterprise deserves to have their portrait hung in these hallways.  As to my portrait, as Secretary Mattis has noted -- many of you may know, and as Jim pointed out, that it was my brother Mike, a renowned professional artist illustrator who painted this portrait.  He gave me a good deal. (Laughter.)

Mike had his paintings hanging in the Pentagon and in officer's clubs all over the world long before I got to the Pentagon.  He may have been trying out for the portrait job.

My brother Tom, who I served with in Vietnam, is a law school professor and a judge.  He critiqued Mike's work, which in itself is a scary prospect.

I realized I was taking a big gamble turning over the power of the brush to my brothers.  But I had great confidence in my brother Mike and his guiding experience provided by my brother Tom.

I told Mike, "Mike, don't make me look too damn good."  He said, "Don't worry." (Laughter.)

I've not studied it enough to know if he was serious about his comment.  Both of my brothers, as has been recognized -- and thank you for recognizing my family -- are here today, and I'm proud of both of them and our family.

I want to again recognize my wife, Lilibet, who is my indispensable partner.  Lilibet worked closely with Annie Dempsey and the chief spouses, and the senior enlisted spouses on a number of projects during my two years here in the Pentagon, which she found greatly enhancing, and enriching, and rewarding.  And I want to thank my daughter Allyn -- and our son Allyn and our son Ziller for their constant help and support.

You'll see in the portrait that there's only one object in the painting other than its mediocre subject.  And that is the combat infantry badge, the CIB.

As you all know, it's a U.S. Army decoration awarded those who have served in combat.  It's a symbol that conveys that part of my service to this country of which I am most proud of.

What I'm most proud of is serving our country alongside the quiet heroes that every generation of Americans produces.  Heroes that neither receive nor seek glory or recognition.

This uncommon courage and humility is the common denominator of the American people.  It is a strong thread that is woven into the fabric of our society.

In a volatile and uncertain time in our country and the world, it is this steady, confident, and humble strength of character that will guide us through the current uncertainty.  We find these strengths throughout our armed forces.

America, like all nations and all individuals need role models, men and women they can look up to, emulate, and admire.  Here today, are two of my former Senate colleagues.  They fit that description.

Senators Dick Lugar and John Warner, two dear friends who helped teach me how to be a United States senator, and were role models.  Thank you both for your service to this country both in uniform and out of uniform.  Dick Lugar and John Warner, thank you. (Applause.)

Belief in each other, our way of life, and our incredible country that gives us the abilities, the structure and resources to self-correct will help America regain its balance.  I believe that as firmly as when I swore my loyalty to the Constitution of the United States on April 26, 1967, the day I was inducted into the United States Army.

As I close my remarks, I want to recognize some special individuals, without whom I could not have done this job.  Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, General Marty Dempsey, General Abe Abrams, my two chiefs of staff, Ambassador Mark Lippert and Rexon Ryu, and my person security detail.

There were many others as well.  And many are here, and they know who they are.  I will forever be grateful -- forever be grateful to all of you.

The principle I've always tried to live by in all things is listen, learn, and respect all opinions and all people.  Those who worked with me saw close up my frailties and weaknesses, but always strive to make me better.  It may be that they were scared as hell as to what would happen if they didn't.

Thank you all, all of you for coming.  And thank you all for your friendship.

I’d also like to thank many of my former Senate staff members who are here, and friends.  I appreciate you coming today as well.

I'm very proud of this day because it was time in the United States Army that helped define me and my future that gave so many wonderful opportunities to my family and me.  These experiences brought me to my last government job, Secretary of Defense, a job that I will forever cherish.

I will forever cherish this job for the privilege and the responsibilities that came with it.  But most importantly, for the opportunity to work alongside men and women who always have put their country first.

God bless you.  Thank you.  Thank you, Jim. (Applause.)

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