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Remarks By Thomas J. Brokaw

Upon receiving the Sylvanus Thayer Award
West Point - September 21, 2006

Humility is not a virtue that is easily associated with someone in my line of work but I am truly humbled by this honor. All of my visits to the Academy have been occasions for a renewed sense of pride as a citizen and a deep, abiding appreciation for the young men and women who form this Long Gray Line, giving over their lives to the cadences of duty, honor, country.

It was enough to know that I was simply welcome here but now to have my name associated with the founder of this historic and hallowed place, well, it is a hoo-hah moment I shall carry with me forever.

It is all the meaningful because I am in the company of my superiors – my family and friends who are here, especially those who preceded your time at the Academy. They have treated this civilian and journalist with patience, wisdom and, most of all, friendship.

In turn, I cherish their friendship and I treasure their counsel. I am also grateful that they have resisted pointing out that the only way I could get into West Point is with a car and driver.

This honor I accept in the name of other warriors and their families in another time. What I call The Greatest Generation, the men and women who came of age in the Great Depression when everyday life was about deprivation and common sacrifice. Just as the dark clouds of that struggle began to lift, this generation was called to battle at home and abroad in the greatest war ever fought.

They did not hesitate to go thousands of miles across the Atlantic and thousands of miles across the Pacific, to take to the high seas – and the skies above – to defeat the maniacal forces of facism and imperialism. They were bound to those they left behind by a common commitment and common effort – as men and women at home went without so those on the front lines would have what they needed.

New weapons and new strategies were produced on the run.

Farmers grew more and ate less; in town neighbors shared victory gardens – and rationed gasoline, meat and sugar; women put on overalls and picked up welding torches – and everyone felt the loss when the casualty reports came in.

It wasn´t a perfect time. Japanese-American citizens were sent to internment camps and black Americans were subjected to the worst kind of racism. And how did they respond? They fought their way onto the front lines and performed heroically, more than claiming their place in the greatness of their generation.

When they all came home it would have been easy for them to say, "I´ve done my share. I will now lay down my weapons and worry only about me." Who would have blamed them?

Instead, they went to college in record numbers, married in record numbers, gave us new industry, new medicine, new art – and they expanded the freedoms of those left behind too long.

They returned to their home states or took up residence in new ones and plunged into the public arena as school board members, governors, senators, representatives – and presidents.

They also – for the first time in the history of warfare - gave the countries they conquered a fresh start by re-building their economies and, in the case of Japan, giving the Japanese a constitution and democracy.

The Greatest Generation were in every sense of the phrase, men and women alike, in uniform and out, citizen-warriors.

In their own way, they were part of your Long Gray Line – and you, in your own way, are an extension of their greatness.

You will leave here the best trained warriors mankind has known, but I trust you will not forego your sensibilities and your obligations as citizens.

I fervently hope that throughout your career you will find ways to stay connected to those not privileged to wear the uniform of their country – just as they must work much more diligently to stay connected to you and your families.

Too many of your fellow citizens are physically, emotionally, and even intellectually removed from the realities of life and death experienced by those of your generation who have volunteered to protect this nation in military uniform.

We are in a war against a tenacious and suicidal enemy, resourceful and full of a misguided rage in the name of their faith. It is complex, confusing, and controversial, very controversial.

It requires the full attention and personal commitment of all of us, in uniform and out. We must find new ways of dealing with the rage in the Islamic world– and we must find new ways of finding common ground at home.

This war cannot be won on the military battlefield alone. There is no state to summon to the peace table in Paris or on to the deck of the USS Missouri.

We´re all in the army now and this army has many faces.

And as you go from here to your first commission and your new responsibilities you´ll encounter the American press in all of its modern forms, men and women, print and electronic.

They don´t salute and they seldom say "Sir," but they perform an essential role in a democracy during peace and war.

They will not always see the world exactly as you do, but it is my experience that you will learn from each other and that on the battlefield you will have a bond that may surprise you because – and this is sometimes hard for my friends in the military to accept – warriors and journalists come from the same gene pool.

They like to catch the bad guys. They live unconventional lives. When necessary they, too, can live off the land with their boots on the ground and spend their nights in scary places. They deal in facts – and, yet they, too, experience the fog of war in their own profession.

And they are patriots, stewards of a fundamental right of free people: a free press, however imperfect it may be on some occasions.

In this war, to a greater degree than any other in American history, warriors and journalists have another bond: death and wounds.

Bob Woodruff of ABC News, Kim Dozier of CBS, and Michael Weiskopf of TIME magazine were all grievously wounded attempting to tell your story. Weiskopf has eloquently described his perilous passage from writer to war casualty, his treatment at Walter Reed, and his insights into and admiration for his fellow ward mates. Michael´s book is tellingly called BLOOD BROTHERS.

More journalists working for American organizations have died in this war than in any other. Michael Kelly of The Atlantic and David Bloom of NBC News were lost in the early combat rounds. Since then 78 – 20 this year alone - journalists working for American organizations, most of them foreign nationals, have been killed or died in carrying out their duties.

In war and peace and in uniform and out, in our differences and in our similarities, we´re all privileged to be American citizens and to be stewards of the rule of law and democratic principles that remain the envy of the world.

Finally, let me offer a unique piece of military advice based on a little noticed historic fact.

In 1873 General George Armstrong Custer, a flamboyant graduate of this institution, de camped for the northern plains, and established a summer camp in my hometown of Yankton, S.D.

There is a large billboard on the edge of town now, announcing that with an outsized caricature of Custer saying, "Shore wish I´d stayed."

There he was taken with an Italian immigrant who was the community´s band master. He persuaded the bandmaster to join the 7th Cav and ride off with him.

The bandmaster agreed, but fortunately he stopped short of Little Big Horn. Nonetheless, he stayed in the 7th for a number of years before returning to Yankton to establish a successful plumbing business.

His name Felix Vinatierie and 100 years after Custer´s stop in Yankton, his great, great grandson was born in the same community.

The grandson won a place at West Point but decided not to stay,

His name was Adam – and in 2002 he was wearing a uniform but it wasn´t the 7th Cav. He was a New England Patriot – and in New Orleans he kicked the winning field goal to win the Super Bowl for his team, the first of three Super Bowls he won.

He has gone on to become the greatest clutch kicker in the history of the NFL.

So choose your bandmasters with care. A Super Bowl may be at stake.

Finally, I salute each and everyone of you. I will spend every day striving to measure up to the honor you have accorded me.

And I, too, shall be guided by duty, honor, country.