June 10, 2013 -- SecArmy McHugh's remarks at George Washington's Mount Vernon Purple Heart Ceremony
June 12, 2013
Thank you. And a special thank you to Mrs. Bookout and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association for once again hosting this inaugural event to begin the 238th celebration of the United States Army birthday. This is our second year, running now, that we've had the honor to be on these truly majestic grounds. I'm hopeful that making Mount Vernon an integral part of the Army birthday will be a tradition for many years to come.
Historian Gary Wills once noted that "before there was a nation, before there was any symbol of that nation -- a flag, a Constitution, a national seal -- there was Washington." If I could edit his statement ever so slightly, I think I would add to it the words the United States Army; for, in fact, before our founding father -- without General George Washington -- there might well have been no Army. Before he was President, he was, of course, our commanding general; and so our history, the Army's history, and that of the entire nation, is deeply intertwined with the personal history of George Washington.
It was just a matter of a few days after Congress unanimously selected him as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, that George Washington wrote his wife to tell her of his new duties. "You may believe me my dear Patsy," Washington wrote on June 18, in 1775, "when I assure you in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it." If Washington dreaded a federal appointment 238 years ago, I can only imagine how he might feel today in the era of confirmation hearings and cable news networks. But sometimes history -- and the will of Congress -- can be too overpowering, too compelling, even for a man with the power of conviction, the courage and the vision of George Washington. It's worth noting, I believe, as well, that, as perhaps many if not all of you know, Washington decided to forgo a salary in recognition of the depleted state of the federal treasury at that time. And so, I think it's reasonable to say that in addition to being the father of our country, and the earliest general of our Army, he may well have been the first-ever target of budget sequestration. And as such, it seems that some things rarely change.
And some things can always be counted upon -- like the men and the women of the United States Army. And one of the many reasons we so appreciate the opportunity to begin our birthday commemorations here at Mount Vernon is, added to the fact that beyond being the home of General Washington as Mrs. Bookout noted, it marks as well the beginning of that Purple Heart Trail. And while it begins here, it's a series of roadways and trails throughout all 50 of the United States that's designed to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who have been awarded the Purple Heart.
Mrs. Bookout described very accurately the importance of historically and operationally of its creation. She spoke very eloquently about Washington recognized something that apparently European armies felt was either unimportant or were simply unconcerned about: that is that enlisted soldiers were truly the heart and the soul of an army. And as in today's modern United States Army, Washington recognized that the strength of the military -- and at that moment, in his days at that time, the hope of the cause to be advanced rested with the people of this great Republic, those individuals who choose to serve the nation and defend peoples' liberties and freedom. Mrs. Bookout explained for 150 years before that Legion of Merit as it was called then, was revived as today's Purple Heart, and that action actually occurred through the leadership of another lion of our United States Army history, General Douglas MacArthur, who recognized as well that any member of our armed forces regardless of the service who was wounded by an instrument of war at the hands of the enemy deserved special recognition.
In Washington's first ceremony where he awarded the Purple Heart, he bestowed it upon three enlisted Soldiers. And this morning we have the opportunity and high honor to pay tribute to three of today's enlisted Soldiers: Sergeant Cory Doane, Sergeant Sean Karpf and Specialist Arael Lopez-Lopez.
We often speak of the Army in terms of family -- Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, Civilians-- drawing courage from, standing by and in support of each other. But the true strength, the true support our Soldiers receive comes first and foremost from their own immediate families. And that's why all of us, I know, are particularly pleased that the families of some of our honored Soldiers are here with us today. Among Sergeant Karpf's guests are his wife, Brandy, his daughter Marissa and son, Zachary. And Specialist Lopez is joined by his wife, Jennifer, his daughter Yoeslin, his father, Aramis, and I'm told there may be a few aunts and uncles, but taken together, a virtual battalion of love and support. And I know as well that some of our Soldiers brought members of their Warrior Transition Battalions with them this morning. And to those heroes I want to say not only thank you for your service, but ask that you join me in giving them a round of applause. And to all these incredible family members, thank you so much. Thank you for your service, and for the strength, encouragement and support you have shown, and you continue to provide, to these great warriors each and every day.
And as we close out today's ceremony, and officially begin the commemoration of the Army's 238th birthday, it seems particularly fitting to close with the words of the man at whose home we now stand. Just days after assuming command of the Continental Army, Washington wrote to his nephew, Burwell Bassett, about his appointment. "I can answer but for three things," Washington wrote, "A firm belief in the justice of our cause, close attention in the prosecution of it, and the strictest of integrity." As a nation, we continue to hold a firm belief in the justice of our cause." And for 238 years, the United States Army has been there to support and defend it with -- as today's Soldiers have shown by their service and their sacrifice -- the strictest of integrity.
So thank you all again for joining us, and, most importantly in the spirit of the occasion, happy birthday United States Army.