Press Conference by Senators and Veterans
Bob Kerrey, Daniel Inouye and Max Cleland
(.wav files below)
Senator Bob Kerrey: Well, I want to thank Bob Clemens for the very nice introduction and I want to thank the Tennessee Democratic party and all that you've done to put this together. I want to thank our good friend Max Cleland who has done such an outstanding job of making certain that we keep our word and commitment to America's Veterans. And, we're all real proud.
We are fortunate to have as our standard bearer a man who has not only served this country but has put himself on the line saying that we have to keep and honor the commitments that we have made to our Nation's Veterans and who has put before the American people spending proposals that call for putting more resources and more resources for taking care of our Veterans. It's not enough just to talk. It's not enough just to say I'm going to be compassionate. You've got to put your money where your mouth is or, otherwise, you're not going to be able to keep your word.
So, we're fortunate to have as our standard bearer a man who has served his country, Al Gore, and a man who has put before the American people a promise that says he is going to keep our military strong, and he's going to keep our word that we have given to our Nation's Veterans.
I want to correct one thing that Congressman Clemens made about me. I didn't earn the Congressional Medal of Honor - I received it. And I was very moved and very fortunate to have had the chance to be there when Senator Inouye received his Medal of Honor, and I heard him say that day something that I believe very much, which is that we receive these medals for others and we wear them for others who were heroes, but were not similarly recognized. Then I heard Senator Inouye say that day that he wished that some of the Medics that have saved our lives, that was the first word out of my mouth when I was injured, had gotten comparable recognition.
There are a lot of people in this country who have sacrificed for this Nation. Our most recent example is the USS Cole. 17 men and women on that destroyer were on their way to the Persian Gulf on what was a dangerous and obviously dangerous mission for them. We had an opportunity to get to know those young folks because their biographies were printed in almost every newspaper in America. And I note that with great interest and great personal interest that they had slightly different life experiences than I did. All 17 of these folks were high school graduates, not a college graduate among them.
I attended the University of Nebraska in 1961 to 1965 and at that time the Selective Service Laws said that you got a deferment from service. You didn't have to go into service. You were given what was called a 2S classification. My family could put me in college, and they did, as they did for the rest of my brothers and sisters. But there were an awful lot of folks who were not fortunate. So, when I got out of college in 1965 staring the draft in the face, I volunteered for the Navy, as did Al Gore when he got out of Harvard. On the 27th of May when Governor Bush got out of Yale University, after having a four year deferment.
During May 1968, there were 350 Americans dying every week in Vietnam, and he applied, as was his right, to the Texas Air National Guard. He applied to the Texas Air National Guard. In spite of the fact that there were 500 people ahead of him; he was accepted on the same day he applied. Now, I'll let him explain how that happened. I don't question that both he and I were both given an opportunity to go to college, and we were not required to go to Vietnam while we were in college. When we got out of college, we were required to serve; he made a commitment to the Texas Air National Guard. And, God bless him for doing so. There have been many moments when Nebraska National Guard folks are on their way to Bosnia or some other deployment and they say goodbye to their families, too. They rip their lives as well. I'm not taking anything away for our Guard or our Reserve men and women. But, Governor Bush made a six-year commitment. And, he's making truth telling and character a big issue in this campaign. I heard him say recently in Pennsylvania, that the Vice President was guided by a controlling legal authority.
He said, I won't be, I'll be guided by my conscience and I'll do what's right. Well, if he's going to do what's right, he ought to release his military records, as John McCain did and let us know where he was during that six year period of time, because, there appears to be a period of time from June of 1972 to late until about October in 1973 (when he was given an early release so he could go to Harvard Business School), that he didn't report to meetings.
If you're going to make a commitment to join the Guard when a lot of us were given special privilege and special opportunities to go to college and given deferments while we did and didn't have to go into the service at the time, you've got to keep that commitment. Especially, if you're going to make character an issue in this campaign. So, I call on Governor Bush to tell us where you were and to release your records, as John McCain did, and let the American people decide. If you're going to be Commander In Chief, you may have to discipline people who did the same thing you did, and it may be difficult as a consequence.
Once again, I thank Max and Bob Clement. I understand Bart Gordon is there as well, and John Tanner of the Tennessee Democratic Party, but most of all, I want to thank Al Gore for his service, his honesty, his integrity and his commitment to America's Veterans and his declaration to the American people, that if he is elected President of the United States of America, he intends to honor that commitment and to keep our military strong and to make certain the United States of America continue to be able to influence the world as we have done for the rest of my life. So, thank you all very, very much.
And, now's it's a pleasure for me to introduce my friend and colleague, the senior Senator from the State of Hawaii, a man with his story inspires, Senator Dan Inouye.
Senator Daniel Inouye: All right, thank you very much, Bob. I'm sorry I can't be there with you. I wanted to be there in person to tell you how much I admire Al Gore. I wanted to be with my fellow Veterans to tell you we have something at stake here. I would have hoped that all of American could have heard what Bob Kerrey just said. The question is where were you, Governor Bush? What about your commitment? What would you do as Commander In Chief if someone in the Guard or in another service did the same thing? During my service, if I missed training for two years, at the least, I would have been court-martialed. I would have been placed in prison.
But, these are different times. I am a Veteran like most of you there. And, as a Veteran, I must confess that I have a little bias. I like to serve with men who have put on a uniform, men and women, because, those of us who have been privileged to serve have a different perspective. I think it's different when you have to sit in a foxhole and look at the dark skies with just the stars there, not knowing whether you're going to have breakfast the following morning. That sensation, that experience, leaves something. Then those lonesome nights when you're on your bunk thinking about your loved one, far away from you; your little son or your little daughter, wishing that you were there. Being denied that has a different effect on someone. Then how about those who have to be away from home, not just for a week or two, but for a year or two, that does something to a person's psyche.
And I've always felt that Al Gore had a special appreciation for those of us who had the privilege for servicing our Nation in uniform. Because, he senses the special concerns, the special pains that not everyone has had the privilege to do. Today, the war is a little different. There is no front-line. And, as Bob Kerrey indicated in the USS Cole, that was the front line. During World War II, the grand old war that I participated in, there was clear-cut front-line on the other side, where they had a man, on this side, we were the good guys. In Vietnam, where was the front-line? The front-line could have been in a restaurant, or it could have been in a bus, or it could have been while you were riding a truck, because Viet Cong were all over the place. Al Gore was there. He had to live under that threat. He was standing in harms way all of the time.
And, I appreciate an American who is willing to volunteer and stand in harms way on my behalf. Today, there are thousands upon thousands, over 2 million Americans, men and women, who have stepped forward, taken the oath and said, "I am willing to stand in harms way, and, if necessary, give my life." I admire those men and women. Al Gore is one of those guys. That's one of the big reasons I'm going to be voting for him. Because I know what it is to be a Veteran and he knows what it is to be a Veteran and he will never, never let us down. Sorry I can't be there, but thank you all for joining us. Aloha.
Senator Max Cleland: Thank you Congressman Tanner, Congressman Clement, Carl Wallace and Bill Manning. It is an honor to be with four of Tennessee's favorite sons, who all have done so much for your state and your country.
In 1967, I volunteered for duty in Vietnam. It was not a popular thing to do, but I felt it was my duty to go. It was a decision that changed my life forever.
As I said, it is wonderful to be here in the "Volunteer State." I know you're proud of that nickname, but what does it mean to you? I can tell you what it meant to one Tennessean. About thirty years ago, there were two young men about my age who faced a similar decision. They were both the sons of influential families. They both attended Ivy League colleges. They both could easily get a deferment or an easy assignment. One did, one did not.
It's still a little unclear what George W. actually did do, but I can tell you what Al Gore did. Al Gore was the son of a United States Senator who opposed the Vietnam war. He did not have to go, but he chose to go because he said he knew another young man from Carthage would have to go in his place. Not only did he go, he went as an enlisted man. An anonymous inscription on a bunker in Khe Sahn reads, "For those who fought for freedom, it has a flavor the protected shall never know." Al fought for freedom, and today, I consider him my brother.
I am here today because Al Gore is the most qualified person to be the next President of the United States and the next Commander-in-Chief of the United States military.
As a Congressman, a Senator and as Vice President, Al Gore has never forgotten the promises we made to her veterans. Since 1993, he has worked on a series of initiatives to address some of the most vexing problems facing our veterans population. Through his leadership, the Administration has:
Provided job training to an estimated 500,000 unemployed veterans, Allocated almost $100 million to secure housing for homeless veterans; Expand the VA ambulatory clinic by 600 facilities; and Redoubled our efforts to find the cause and cure for Gulf War Syndrome through 121 research projects and heal studies.
In 1999, he asked Congress to add an additional $1 billion in funding for veterans health care to our budget to expand long term health care, VA infrastructure needs and improve case processing turn around time.
This year, we covered the largest single out-of-pocket expense for our military retirees, which is the cost of prescription drugs. Second, we have provided access to TRICARE for all Medicare-eligible retirees, thus keeping the promise of full health care we made to them decades ago. Third, we have eliminated the disgraceful situation of having any active duty personnel eligible for food stamps by providing special pay of up to $500 per month. Finally, we have given our active duty personnel an across the board pay increase of 3.7%, following last year's increase of 4.9%, as well as targeted bonuses for at-risk positions. The most critical weapon in our arsenal are our people in uniform. This bill keeps our readiness high while keeping our promises to those who served before.
We've accomplished a great deal in the Senate this year for veterans and retirees, but we need to do more, and we need Al Gore to lead the way.
Al Gore has been there for the "Volunteer State" and all 500,000 of its veterans. It is time for you to be there for him.
Tell him and George Bush that it makes a difference if you served your country. It makes a difference if you chose not to. Al Gore is only man qualified to be our next president and Commander-in-Chief, and is the man veterans and the military need in the White House. I am honored and proud to support my fellow veteran, Al Gore.