It was a festive celebration as cadets, staff, and faculty participated in the Sylvanus Thayer Award ceremony to commemorate this year's recipient, Senator Elizabeth Dole, on Sept. 21 at the U.S. Military Academy.
The accolade honors the enduring legacy of Sylvanus Thayer, the academy's fifth superintendent, and celebrates individuals who, despite not graduating from West Point, have embodied the timeless motto, "Duty, Honor, Country," through their dedicated service to the nation.
The celebration began at The Plain during the Pass and Review, where everyone from plebes to Purple Heart veterans watched as the Corps of Cadets marched before the receiving party to kick off the event.
Afterward, the banquet was held at the Cadet Mess Hall, where Elizabeth received the Thayer Award, marking her and her husband, Senator Bob Dole, the first married couple to receive their respective Awards, with Bob receiving it in 2004.
"Thank you for this tremendous honor. If we can measure the prestige of an award by its past recipients, then this recognition is humbling indeed," Elizabeth said. "I remember how thrilled I was in 2004 when the (West Point) Association of Graduates presented the Thayer Award to my late husband, Bob Dole.
"Bob would have been 100 years old in July. Over the course of his life, he earned a number of titles: congressman, Senator, presidential nominee, but none filled him with as much pride as the title American Soldier," she added. "As Bob's partner in life and as a proud American who cherishes our freedoms, I am ever grateful for the generations of Americans who have joined Bob in wearing the Army uniform."
In 1991, Elizabeth Dole garnered national recognition by becoming the second woman to lead the American Red Cross, following in the footsteps of the organization's founder, Clara Barton. During her tenure, she implemented a widespread overhaul of the world's largest humanitarian organization, revolutionizing the way it collected, tested, and distributed half of the nation's blood supply.
In January 1999, Dole made the announcement of her departure from the Red Cross, and just two months later, she declared her candidacy for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.
Two years later, Dole made history as the first woman to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, serving a single term. While in the Senate, she played a crucial role as a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Fast forward to 2012, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation was established, inspired by a medical emergency faced by Bob. This incident motivated her to create the "Hidden Heroes" campaign, shedding light on the challenges endured by military caregivers, including spouses, parents, and others caring for wounded loved ones.
In this capacity, she has been a leading advocate in raising awareness and served as the former Chair of the VA's Veterans' Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee, instrumental in the development of critical resources and the enhancement of benefits and support services.
Elizabeth said that with nearly 60 years as a public servant, one of her most "privileged responsibilities" was writing nomination letters as a U.S. Senator for young hopefuls wishing to enroll in the academy during the height of the Iraq War.
"The applicants who approached my office often had their pick of colleges," Elizabeth said. "Yet, they were motivated to set aside more comfortable lives and rise to the elite expectations of this institution, so they could be leaders in a time of war."
As the event concluded, Elizabeth received a nearly 10-minute standing ovation from the audience after receiving the Thayer Award. She has now joined the ranks of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Bob Hope, Neil Armstrong, Barbara Jordon, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger and former President George W. Bush and last year’s recipient, Philanthropist Ken Fisher.
May the words "Duty, Honor, Country take hold beyond the distinguished halls of West Point," Elizabeth concluded. "May they thunder in the ears of our nation's leaders and echo through the halls of power."
" ... May their refrain sound in every community, every classroom, every meeting house and City Hall across this great land," she added. "Now and forever, may God bless the American Soldier, and may He continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you so much."