Clinton, Albright pay tribute to former JCS chairman Shalikashvili
October 18, 2011
By Jim Dresbach
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 18, 2011) -- Remembered as a diplomat, statesman, patriot and an honest Soldier, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili was praised for his service and dedication to America and a post-Cold War Eastern Europe by former U.N. Ambassador and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Bill Clinton during an Oct. 7 memorial service.
Preceding full military honors and interment in section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery, the Shalikashvili funeral at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Memorial Chapel brought together active-duty and retired officers, Joint Chiefs predecessor retired Gen. Colin Powell and the nucleus of the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton delivered a eulogy filled with humor and profound recollection of his top military advisor.
Clinton appointed the Polish-born Shalikashvili to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, and he told the congregation he once quizzed the general about his media-assisted process of mastering the English language.
"I said, did you really learn English watching John Wayne movies? He said yes, and I said, well, why don't you talk like John Wayne?" Clinton said to the audience that also included former Secretary of Defense William Perry and current Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Clinton continued the story by saying Gen. Shalikashvili, behind his glasses and his precise English, looked more like a math teacher or his accountant than John Wayne, but "then you realized you never met a math teacher or an accountant in your life that had that much steel in his glare."
Albright, who was wearing a pin given to her by Shalikashvili during one of her Washington, D.C. area book signings, remembered working shoulder-to-shoulder with the general in the Partnership in Peace initiative, an introductory plan for new Eastern European democracies to join NATO after the Cold War ended. She explained that like Shalikashvili, she too shared a Slavic heritage, but his makeup was complete American.
"Now it is true that General Shali achieved the pinnacle of his profession," said Albright. "To this day, only 17 others have had the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and yet I never knew a more down-to-earth man. He loved and was grateful to America. He totally got the magic of this special place."
Clinton and Albright both spoke of a World War II refugee who started his American life in Peoria, Ill., and escalated from an Army private to advising the president in the White House during nearly 40 years of military service.
"No one handed him anything; he worked his way up through the ranks and at every step, he was as loyal to his troops as they were to him," Albright said of Gen. Shali, as he was affectionately known. "Some leaders try to cultivate an image, but the real Shali was always front and center."
Clinton told the congregation that Shalikashvili escaped oppression and sought freedom, and that America became a better place because of "terrible mistakes" that were made in his post-World War II homeland.
"He was a man who was quintessentially American because he believed in the value of freedom," Clinton said during the conclusion of his tribute. "He understood the price of preserving it, and he shouldered the responsibility of both embodying our values and taking them into a new and different era. You were a good and faithful servant, and our country is better because of that."
Shalikashvili passed away on July 23 and was the first foreign-born Soldier to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he advised the White House during crises in the Balkans and Haiti.
(Jim Dresbach writes for the Pentagram.)