Remarks by the Vice President at the National Veterans Day Observance
Arlington National Cemetery
11:56 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Secretary Shulkin. Secretary Mattis, Secretary Zinke, all the members of the Cabinet, Secretary Wilson, General Dunford, General Selva, General McConville, Admiral Caldwell and Admiral Michel, to Director Durham-Aguilera, to distinguished members of Congress and all our honored guests, but most of all, to the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, and to all our veterans who have worn the uniform of this great nation, happy Veterans Day. (Applause.)
There is a day in the spring when we remember those who served and did not come home, but today, Veterans Day, is the day when all across America, in gatherings large and small, we pause to remember those who served and did come home.
For nearly a century, since the guns of the First World War fell silent, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the American people have observed this day, first as Armistice Day and now as Veterans Day. And I thank you all who are here and all that are gathered around this nation for continuing this great tradition.
And to our heroes near and far, I bring Veterans Day greetings from a great champion for the men and women who have worn the uniform of our armed forces, the 45th President of the United States of America -- President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
At this very moment, our President is halfway around the world, but I know his heart is here in this hallowed place and at every Veterans Day service across the country.
President Trump asked us to be here at this National Veterans Day ceremony to, in his words, “honor all Americans who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, in times of war and peace” and to “pay due respect” -- due respect to those Americans who have “passed the torch of liberty from one generation to the next.” For they surely have.
And so I say to each and every one of you veterans gathered here and all of those that might be looking on: We are grateful for your service. We are grateful for your sacrifice. And I’ll make a promise -- just as you fought for us, we will always fight for you. (Applause.)
The Bible tells us: If you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect. The debt our nation owes those who’ve worn the uniform is a debt we will never be able to fully repay.
From the hour of our nation’s birth, our best and bravest have stepped forward to defend our freedom. The unbroken cord of their service stretches back into the mists of American history. From Bunker Hill to Belleau Wood, from San Juan Hill to Saipan, from the Coral Reef to Kandahar, nearly 50 million men and women have donned the uniform of the United States, and nearly 20 million still walk among us today. And as we speak, a new generation of American veterans is being forged across the wider world.
As I look out today, it’s a humbling sight. I see heroes from the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, and more recently, from Iraq and Afghanistan, and many more who’ve watch in times of peace.
Yesterday, in Da Nang, Vietnam, our President commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and met with some of the heroes who fought that war on the very soil where they fought.
As the President said yesterday, “We salute our brave Vietnam veterans” and recall “the sacrifices they made for our freedom and for our nation's strength.”
Some 9 million Americans served in those jungles, and more than 58,000 fell in defense of freedom, their names now enshrined on a black granite wall, not far from here. So to all our Vietnam veterans who are gathered here in the midst of this 50th anniversary, I say thank you -- and welcome home. (Applause.)
I’m told that one of those veterans has come to this ceremony almost every year and is almost always introduced, as he was today. But I don't think his story has never been told, and I hope he won’t mind too much if I tell it today.
Thirty-six years ago this March, a first lieutenant in the United States Army, 1st Battalion, 92nd Artillery, awoke at dawn to a massive North Vietnamese attack on a hilltop outpost. He and his brothers were heavily outnumbered. It took just minutes for the enemy to break through their defenses, and the fighting very quickly became hand-to-hand.
History records, in that moment, that that young first lieutenant rallied his brothers to stand their ground. He ordered air and artillery strikes from a “dangerously exposed position” for four straight hours. As the situation worsened, he personally directed the withdrawal and provided cover fire. And to ensure his brothers’ safety, and to inflict maximum damage on the enemy, he actually called in an artillery strike on his own position. Wounded and unable to escape himself, he managed to evade detection for eight long days, until he was rescued when American forces retook that outpost.
For his conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty, he received, of course, the Medal of Honor. So would you join me today in thanking a true American hero, Medal of Honor Recipient, First Lieutenant Brian Thacker? (Applause.)
Our nation owes a debt to our veterans, and as I said, it’s a debt we can never fully repay. But on this Veterans Day we rededicate ourselves to accomplishing just that.
I can assure you since the outset of this administration, President Trump has fought tirelessly to fulfill the words of our nation’s 16th President -- to “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”
Working with Secretary Shulkin, we’ve made the Department of Veterans Affairs already more efficient, effective, and accountable. Let me be clear: Veterans benefits are not entitlements -- they are earned. They are the ongoing compensation for services rendered in the uniform of the United States of America. (Applause.)
And under President Donald Trump, we’re keeping the promises that we’ve made to men and women who’ve served in our armed forces. This President has already expanded the Veterans Choice Program by more than $2 billion to give our heroes access to real-time, high-quality healthcare.
And because not all wounds of war are visible, we’ve improved veterans’ access to urgent mental healthcare services and given them greater access to tele-medicine for our veterans.
President Trump has signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to ensure that our veterans receive the highest level of service. And this President has taken decisive action to end the pattern of neglect and mistreatment at the VA. We’ve already fired or suspended over 1,500 VA employees for negligent behavior. (Applause.)
I want to assure you, as the President has said, we will not rest or relent until “all America’s great veterans receive the care they so richly deserve.” (Applause.)
Beyond healthcare, President Trump has also signed legislation to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill and eliminate the 15-year limit on benefits for new veterans, so they can pursue an education of their choosing.
And I’m glad to report, veteran unemployment has already fallen by nearly 40 percent since President Trump was elected. It’s lower today than at any point since the year 2000. And we're just getting started. (Applause.)
Today, our veterans continue to serve our nation in careers ranging from business to education, from law enforcement to public service. And it seems wherever they go, their lives are characterized by that same sense of duty and the courage and selflessness forged during their years in our armed forces.
Earlier this week, I heard the remarkable story of one such veteran, and I thought I’d share it with you today. On Wednesday, Karen and I traveled to Sutherland Springs, Texas, to meet the families and the victims of the worst attack on a place of worship in American history.
At Brooke Army Medical Center, we stood at the bedside of a retired U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant named Juan Macias. We spoke to his family, as he lay before us, recovering from his injuries. But it was from another member of the church that we learned of that veteran’s extraordinary courage last Sunday. Julie Workman, a registered nurse, was also wounded in the First Baptist Church that day. But no sooner had the attacker left, that she began to treat the wounded. Seeing what lay before her, though, Julie told me she was momentarily overcome, and that’s when “Gunny” stepped in.
Despite having five bullet wounds, she told me that Gunny sat up, looked her in the eye and said, “You were born for this, keep your wits about you, do your job.”
She said that’s all she needed to hear. Heroism outlives the uniform. And her actions and his courage undoubtedly saved lives that day. That’s an American veteran. (Applause.)
On this Veterans Day, we honor those who served with tributes and promises kept. But as our veterans understand better than most, we also honor their service by ensuring that the men and women served in our armed forces today have the resources and support they need to defend this nation in this day.
Our veterans will be glad to know that President Trump has already taken decisive action to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still. This President has already signed the largest increase in military spending in nearly a decade. And before this year is out, we’ll enact the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan. (Applause.)
And under President Donald Trump, I’ll make you a promise: We’re going to rebuild our military. We're going to restore the arsenal of democracy, and we will once again give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen the resources and training they need to accomplish their mission and come home safe. That's our promise to all of you. (Applause.)
As I close, let me say again how deeply humbling it is for me to stand before so many heroes. For you see, as Secretary Shulkin told you, I’m the son of a soldier, and I’m the proud father of a United States Marine, but my life never took me into the uniform of the United States.
I’ve never experienced the cost of war on the battlefield, or had to endure the hardship of time away from home and family that can come with service even in peacetime. But I’ve seen enough to know the burden our veterans bear is oftentimes a burden that lives far beyond your time in uniform.
Sixty-four years ago, my dad served in combat in Korea. Second Lieutenant Edward J. Pence was in the U.S. Army, 45th Infantry. He fought in the battle of Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill, and he earned a Bronze Star for his courage under fire.
The truth is I learned most of that after I grew up -- because dad never talked about the war, and that medal stayed in his dresser drawer.
A few years after he died, I was visiting a cousin that he grew up with on the streets of Chicago, and he told me that the war had changed my dad. When I asked him how, he said “before the war, your dad was the most happy-go-lucky guy I ever met, but,” he said, “after he came back, he was different.”
And then he said words I’ll never forget. He said, “I don’t think your dad ever got over the guilt of coming home.”
I don't think your dad ever got over the guilt of coming home -- in those words, in an instant, I understood every unfinished sentence, every far-away look on my father’s face, whenever the war came up.
If he talked about it at all, he’d talk about the guys he served with, guys who didn’t get to come home, to marry their sweetheart, raise a house full of kids, live their dreams and see their children’s children.
And that’s when I understood the quiet cost of freedom and the burden so many of our veterans bear in their hearts.
So to all our veterans looking on, know this: We are with you. You do not carry that burden alone. As a nation, we stand ready to help you shoulder that load, with the compassion, support, and prayers of the American people.
You were there for us, now we are here for you. President Trump said this morning, in his words, “America’s veterans are this country’s greatest national treasure.” He said, “You are the best role models for our youngest citizens, a constant reminder of all that is good, decent, and brave.”
And to you I say, no truer words were spoken. This is the land of the free because it’s still the home of the brave, and you, our veterans, are our brave. (Applause.)
You stepped forward. You counted our lives more important than yours. And we thank God, who as the Psalmist says, “trained your hands for war,” gave you the strength “to advance against a troop,” but also brought you home safe to your loved ones and a grateful nation.
In his proclamation for this Veterans Day, President Trump called upon every American “to recognize the fortitude and sacrifice of all our veterans,” but let me add one challenge, especially to my fellow countrymen who did not serve in the Armed Forces of the United States -- before the day is out, at home or work, on a street corner, or over a backyard fence, whether they came home in the last week or in the last century, find a veteran, extend your hand and say those words they never ask to hear but deserve to hear every day. To my fellow Americans I say, find a veteran today and say, thank you for your service.
Thank them for their courage. Thank them for your freedom. And thank them for doing their part to preserve this last best hope of Earth, for ourselves and our posterity.
To our veterans, on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation, I say, thank you for your service.
May God bless you and your families. May God bless all those who this day wear the uniform and stand ready and may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
12:18 P.M. EST