Arlington, Virginia - Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Veterans Day Observance:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. It is the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. One hundred years ago, on this day, America first celebrated Armistice Day, marking the anniversary of the day in 1918 when the guns of World War One fell silent.
You know, there is a day in May when we remember those who served and did not come home. But today, all across America, in gatherings large and small, in cities and towns, we pause to remember all those who served in uniform and did come home. It is Veterans Day in America. (Applause.)
To Vice President Quayle, to Secretary Esper, to Secretary Wilkie, Secretary DeVos and Scalia, to Congressman Takano, to Commander Kowalski, to Director Durham-Aguilera, to all the distinguished guests and fellow Americans who are gathered here: It’s an honor to be with you all, but most especially it is a high honor for me to stand before you in this special place among men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America today and our veterans who served our country in uniform in ages past. (Applause.)
It’s my great honor to welcome you here to Arlington National Cemetery for the 2019 National Veterans Day Observance. And I’m grateful that you all would make time, as millions of Americans will do all across this nation, to honor all those who served.
The Bible tells us: If you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect. And today, here at Arlington and all across this nation, Americans gather to pay a debt of gratitude to the generations who’ve answered the call to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States.
It’s also my great honor to be here on behalf of a great champion of our armed forces and of every veteran across this nation. So allow me to begin by bringing greetings and gratitude from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
This morning, our President made history, becoming the first President ever to kick off the annual Veterans Day Parade in New York City. But though he is in New York, I know his heart is here with all of you and with every Veterans Day service across the country.
As the President said just moments ago, in his words, “Today, we come together as one nation to salute the veterans of the United States Armed Forces — the greatest warriors…ever [to] walk [on] the face of the Earth.” (Applause.) As the President said, you risked everything for us. And now it’s our duty to serve you, and serving and protecting our veterans, and keeping our promises to our veterans we will do every day of our lives. (Applause.)
So to all the veterans gathered here, as well as all of those looking on, from the heart of a grateful nation: Thank you for your service. We’re proud of you — (applause) — every single one of you.
And just as you fought for us, I promise you, this President, this Vice President, and our administration will always fight for you. (Applause.)
As President Trump has said, a “spirit of strength…lives within the heart of every American warrior.” And “that spirit has helped our fighters defeat tyrants, conquer fascism, vanquish communism, and face down terrorism.” And so he rightly said.
Our first President said in his farewell orders to the Continental Army these words: “The unparalleled perseverance of the armies of the United States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.” So said George Washington and so it can be said of every veteran throughout the long and storied history of this nation. (Applause.) You’re a standing miracle.
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 of you still walk among us today. And as we speak, a new generation of American heroes and veterans is being forged around the nation and around the world.
As I look out today, it’s a truly humbling sight. I see men and women who served in World War Two, in the Korean War, in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I see many more who’ve stood watch over our country in times of peace. So, if you are able, if you’ve worn the uniform of the United States of America, would you please stand and give us one more opportunity to show the gratitude of this nation for your service? (Applause.) Thank you for your service. Thank you for your service.
It truly is humbling to be with all of you. Our veterans really don’t consider themselves heroes. To speak to them, most of them reject the very thought of it. Most of them say, as Iraq War veteran Army Specialist Christopher Gamblin said not long ago, and I quote — he said he was, quote, “just some guy that did his job.” And my dad, a combat veteran from the Korean War, used to say with equal humility, the heroes were the guys that didn’t make it home.
But on this day, it’s our day to set the record straight. Every veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States is a hero to the American people. (Applause.) And on this day, it’s our duty to tell your story — the story of what you did for us, what you did for our country, and all that you’ve done to ensure the survival and the success of liberty.
Our veterans have distinguished themselves in combat — like a man who joined me on this occasion two years ago. Thirty-eight years ago this March, he was serving his country in Vietnam. Back then, he was a first lieutenant in the United States Army, 1st Battalion, 92nd Artillery. And one morning, he awoke to a massive North Vietnamese attack on a hilltop outpost. He and his brothers-in-arms were heavily outnumbered, and it took just minutes for the enemy to break through their defenses.
But this first lieutenant rallied. He rallied his brothers to stand their ground. He ordered air and artillery strikes from what would later be described as a “dangerously exposed position” for four straight hours. As the situation worsened, he was — he personally directed the withdrawal and provided cover fire. And to ensure his brothers-in-arms’ 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 by American forces that retook the 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. Would you join me in thanking a true American hero, Medal of Honor Recipient, First Lieutenant Brian Thacker? (Applause.)
So we remember those who served in combat. But on this Veterans Day, we also do well to remember that our veterans’ contributions to our country continue long after you come home. They continue to serve our country in civilian life. You lead in business, in education, in law enforcement, and public service at every level.
And wherever you go, you do what you always did when you were serving in uniform. Our veterans show the same sense of duty and courage that defined your years in the armed forces. For a veteran of the United States Armed Forces, service doesn’t end when they hang up the uniform; service is a lifelong calling. (Applause.)
Like a Marine sergeant who joins us here today, during his time in uniform, he was an 81 millimeter mortarman, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. But after he came home, he went to college, played a little football, played in the Orange Bowl, got a masters’ degree, and then joined the VA. And for the last 10 years, he has worked tirelessly to fulfill the words of our nation’s 16th President, to care for them that “shall have borne the battle.” So would you join me in thanking Sergeant Matt Webb for a lifetime of service to America? (Applause.) Serving our veterans and meeting their needs. And we thank you, Sergeant, for continuing that service.
And as I stand before you today, I can tell you from my heart, I couldn’t be more proud to be Vice President to a President who cares so deeply about the men and women of our armed forces and every veteran in America. (Applause.)
Since the first day of our administration, President Trump has taken decisive action to ensure that America keeps the solemn promises that we’ve made to each and every one of you and to all of our nation’s heroes.
This President and this administration know veterans’ benefits are not entitlements; they are the ongoing compensation for services rendered in the uniform of the United States. (Applause.)
And under this President’s leadership, we’ve been working to keep those promises. We passed the most sweeping reforms of the VA in more than 50 years. And Veterans Choice is now available to every veteran in America. (Applause.)
And to end an era of heartbreaking abuse and neglect, President Trump also signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to ensure that our veterans receive the highest quality of care in the VA system. And under our administration, we’ve fired more than 8,000 employees for negligent behavior. And the wait times for patients have dropped by 33 percent. In fact, the wait times are shorter at the VA than they are in the private sector medical system. (Applause.) That’s how you do it for our heroes.
And as our 40th President once said, “Veterans know better than anyone else the price of freedom,” because you’ve “suffered the scars of war.” And the truth is, not all the wounds of war are visible. Often, after they come home, our combat veterans struggle with the weight of having defended our freedom on the field of battle.
That’s why, at President Trump’s direction, we’ve increased funding for mental health services by almost $9 billion. And the VA is now providing mental health screenings to every patient who walks through the door. (Applause.)
And to all of our heroes gathered here and to all of those looking on, let me say — let me say from the heart: If you are a veteran who’s struggling with the return to civilian life, or if you have a family member or a friend or a neighbor who you know is similarly burdened, just know that there is help available today. And just as you were there for us, we will be there for you, to see you through this time. (Applause.)
So we’ve been providing for the practical needs of those who served, but also, from the first day of this administration, this President has taken steps to ensure that our returning veterans can live the American Dream that they fought so nobly to defend.
In fact, President Trump signed legislation to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill so that veterans can get up to $24,000 to attend the college of their choice at any point in their lives. (Applause.)
And three months ago, President Trump directed the Department of Education to eliminate every last penny of student debt owed by a permanently disabled veteran. (Applause.) With the stroke of a pen, the President wiped out $750 million owed by more than 25,000 heroes.
And thanks to the President’s leadership, not only are we making education more available and more affordable for our veterans, but our returning veterans are also coming back to an American economy that is booming. And veterans’ unemployment is at a 19-year low. (Applause.)
On this Veterans Day, we honor those who served, like all of you gathered here. We honor you with tributes and promises kept. But as our veterans understand better than most, we also honor your service by ensuring that the men and women in our armed forces today have the resources and the support that they need to accomplish their mission and defend this nation. And this we have done. (Applause.)
As they proved just two weeks ago in a raid that took out the world’s number one terrorist leader, the Armed Forces of the United States are the greatest force for good the world has ever known. (Applause.)
And I’m proud to report to all the veterans gathered here and those looking on that, from the first day of this administration, President Trump has taken action to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still.
This President has actually signed the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan, including the largest pay raise for our armed forces in more than 10 years. (Applause.)
And I’ll make a promise to all the veterans gathered here: Under this President’s leadership, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard will always have the resources and the support that they need, so help us God. (Applause.)
So, it’s Veterans Day in America, the day we honor all of you who stepped forward and answered the call to defend this nation at home and abroad. You came from the rest of us, but we know you are the best of us. And on this day and every day, we honor your courage, your patriotism, and what you’ve done for us.
You put on the armor, you stood in the gap, and you defended our freedom. You counted our lives more important than your own. You stood for a cause greater than yourselves.
Nine years ago this month, a 21-year-old Marine was serving our country in Afghanistan. History records he was on top of a house with his fellow Marine, looking out at a village around them, when suddenly an insurgent threw a grenade on the roof. And without a moment’s hesitation, he threw himself on the grenade and absorbed the impact of the blast.
He suffered terrible injuries. Every part of his body that wasn’t protected was injured: face, neck, thigh, foot, lung. But somehow he survived.
While he was being treated, he went into cardiac arrest three times. He’s undergone more than 70 procedures during 40 separate surgeries. But people who know him know that that hasn’t slowed him down. Today, he’s a published author, a popular speaker, a marathon runner, and his faith in God and his patriotism has been an inspiration to millions.
And I promise you, and him, that the American people will never forget or fail to honor the service of the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, Corporal Kyle Carpenter. (Applause.)
I mentioned Kyle because of his heroism, because of what he said not long ago. He wrote a memoir of his life, and he told a story of a day that he got into an Uber on his way to the airport, and he started chatting with the driver. He said they talked about their lives. He share what he’d been through serving our country. And as the conversation wound down, as it does for so many of you veterans, the driver turned and looked at him and said those words that he often hears: “Thank you for your service.”
But in that moment, as he wrote later, Corporal Carpenter gave a reply that surprised even him. He looked at the driver after he heard those words, and said, “You’re worth it.”
As he wrote later, he had wondered to himself, “Why did I say that?” But then he realized, in his words, “In that moment, I wanted him to know that his family, his freedom, his rights, just the simple fact that he was a human being, meant that he was worth sacrificing for…and that’s what I’ve come to realize serving in the military means…” (Applause.) It was a small moment but with a big meaning.
In a single sentence, Lance Corporal Carpenter captured the spirit of every veteran. I could see it in the faces sitting before me when I recited those words, and the gentle nods that so many of you just gave. When you put on the uniform of the United States, you said we’re worth it, that our freedom is worth it and America is worth it. And on this day, on behalf of your President and a grateful nation, thank you. Thank you for considering us worthy of your all and service to this country. (Applause.)
So it’s Veterans Day in America. And to my fellow Americans who did not serve in uniform, I have a challenge for you today. I challenge every American who do not follow a calling into service, before the day is out — whether at home or at work, on a street corner, or over a backyard fence — find a veteran. Whether they came home in the last week or in the last century, extend your hand and say those words that they never ask to hear but they deserve to hear every day. Find a veteran today and say, “Thank you for your service.” Because every single one of you deserve to hear it every day. (Applause.)
So thank you for the honor of addressing you in this special place. God bless our veterans and their families. God bless our fallen. God bless the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States today. And may God continue to bless the United States of America with heroes like all of you. Thank you.