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Leon E. Panetta Receives 2018 Thayer Award

The Honorable Leon E. Panetta—the 23rd U.S. Secretary of Defense, 3rd Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, 18th White House Chief of Staff, and Chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy—became the 61st recipient of the annual Sylvanus Thayer Award, accepting the award at a formal dinner in the West Point Mess Hall on October 4. Since 1958, the West Point Association of Graduates has presented the Thayer Award to an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto: Duty, Honor, Country. [SEE PHOTOS]

“From the halls of Congress to the Pentagon, and in many places in between, Secretary Leon Panetta has dedicated his life to selfless service for our nation and truly embodied the principles of this Academy,” said Superintendent Lieutenant General Darryl Williams ’83, upon introducing the 2018 recipient.

In his remarks before the presentation, West Point Association of Graduates Board Chairman, Lieutenant General Joseph E. DeFrancisco ’65 (Retired), said, “In receiving the Thayer Award, Secretary Panetta joins a diverse array of significant Americans—renowned scientists, astronauts, esteemed members of the clergy, and members of Congress—and his name on the West Point Thayer Award plaque greatly enriches the prestige of our alma mater.”

“I am so proud to be part of the history and tradition of West Point,” said Secretary Panetta in his acceptance speech, but he downplayed his five decades of service to the nation, and instead accepted the award on behalf of the 2002 Thayer Award recipient, the American Soldier. “For more than two centuries, our democracy has survived because of our soldiers’ commitment to Duty and Honor and Country.” He then challenged cadets to continue to fight for democracy in America and the values and principles upon which America was founded: “freedom, liberty, equal justice, opportunity, a respect for one another regardless of color or creed or faith or gender, of honest leadership committed to a government of, by, and for all people.” “You are warriors,” Secretary Panetta said to the cadets, “and you understand that your duty is not just to fight for your country, but to make sure that you fight for a country that is worth fighting for.”

Prior to the medal award ceremony, Panetta, like all distinguished Thayer Award recipients before him, had the opportunity to troop the line with the Superintendent during a review of the Corps of Cadets assembled in formation on the Plain in his honor. “The review was fantastic,” Secretary Panetta said in a press interview before the dinner ceremony. “For all those who may be frustrated at times with what’s going on in our country, I think our greatest hope was on that field with those cadets.”