American Legion Veteran’s Day Ceremony
Haddad Riverfront Park
Charleston, West Virginia
November 11, 2019 - 11:00am
[As Prepared for Delivery]
Thank you, Senator Capito, for the kind introduction and for your thoughtful remarks!
Senator Capito and I were disappointed to miss the parade!
We’re sorry we did. There is nothing like a homegrown parade celebrating American heroes!
While we’re sorry we missed it, we had a good excuse.
Earlier this morning, we were over in Putnam County, where we announced more than $7 million in U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration grants that are going to help create or retain more than 1,200 jobs and spur $380 million in private investment in this great state.
Senator Capito played a critical role in securing these critical grant investments, and while we missed the parade, we are excited to be here with you now and join you for the program.
As a Navy Veteran and American Legion member (Wiley Peavy Post 74), I am honored and humbled to be with all of you today.
I’d like to thank Past Post Commander Gail Harper and all of the members of John Brawley American Legion Post 20 for hosting us today.
Mayor Goodwin, it’s great to be in Charleston today.
We’ve heard from representatives with Governor Justice, Senator Manchin and Congressman Mooney’s offices.
Thank you all for your participation.
We’ve been inspired by the stories of our Gold Star mothers and by the heroism of Tazwell Saunders, our honored greatest generation WW II veteran.
I am proud to be here to help honor the service of all veterans from all branches of service!
Many of you don’t know me, but I am one of you: A proud Veteran and American Legion member---a brother to you!
Today, I am honored to serve the American people in the service of President Donald J. Trump and Secretary Wilbur Ross at the U.S. Department of Commerce as we work together to help drive private sector investment to our nation’s most financially distressed communities.
Prior to joining Commerce, I served as the deputy assistant secretary for Health IT reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was a four-term U.S. Congressman representing Louisiana’s fourth congressional district, and a coroner in Webster Parish, Louisiana.
I also started and managed my own private medical practice, specializing in family medicine, in Minden, Louisiana.
In addition, beginning in the 1980s, I started a suite of diverse businesses and commercial real estate ventures that have grown across three states, creating hundreds of private sector jobs and that continue in operation today.
I credit my military service for helping me become successful in all phases of my life---instilling the sense that there is a much higher calling than serving one’s self. That servant leadership is a critical concept that has made this nation so great.
I grew up in a working-class home in Meridian, Mississippi, a town of 40,000 citizens.
My father worked for the power company.
He was drafted from a farm that he grew up on, out of high school and into the army-air corps – or the United States Air Force as it’s called today - to serve during WW II.
Several of my uncles served in the Marine Corps and in the Army during the war effort as well. Growing up among such men who made huge sacrifices during this military effort was a tremendous inspiration to me. Uncle BL fought under Patton in Germany, Uncle Fletcher fought as a Marine on Guam, Uncle John was a member of the 101st airborne at Bastogne.
It was, therefore, a great honor to serve my country in uniform when the opportunity arose.
However, I was also inspired to one day become a doctor.
My grandmother was a licensed practical nurse and I was always fascinated by the stories she told of working in the hospital environment. (That was long before the days of the HIPAA laws that protect privacy).
Because of this inspiration and the motivation to help mankind through providing health care, at age 11, I accepted the calling to become a physician.
At that same age, I also surrendered my life to the Lord.
During my senior year of high school my father suddenly passed away, and my mother was already disabled.
While I knew I still wanted to pursue a medical career, I was not sure how I was going to finance it.
Nonetheless, I managed to work my way through three years of college.
Unfortunately, I ran out of money during my first year of medical school.
Then I read an article in the newspaper about the newly passed Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP), in which one could serve in the military and have their medical school expenses paid.
That very day in January 1973, I called an Air Force recruiter, but he had not heard of the program yet, so I hung up and called the Navy!
They were aware of the program, and shortly thereafter I was sworn in---among the first, if not the first, medical student admitted to the brand-new program that still to this day finances the medical education of thousands of budding young physicians.
This was one of several highlights of my life in which I could rise to attain my dream to become a physician and also pursue the tremendous opportunity to serve my country as a military member just like those who had gone before me.
During my years of service (post Viet Nam), our nation was not engaged in any wars except for the “Cold War” with the USSR and so I did not see combat or fortunately be required to take care of combat casualties.
Nonetheless, I was trained and ready to serve and lay down my life whenever my nation called.
And, there were challenges being a Navy medical officer.
While stationed on Guam, I delivered a number of babies, some of them during typhoons.
Because the island had limited facilities to care for serious injuries or illnesses, I would sometimes be a part of medivac teams to Hawaii where facilities were more capable.
I spent 6 weeks in the jungles of Panama studying tropical diseases. Not only did I treat active duty military members, but I treated their families and retirees as well.
It gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with some of the most outstanding and bravest people of our great nation.
I loved military medicine and my time in service.
To me, the opportunity to wear the uniform was an honor and a high privilege. However, in those days, the 1970s, military members were not popular as they are today.
After leaving the service, I remained committed to giving back to the country that had done so much for me.
So, for me, Veterans Day is time to reflect and recognize the brave men and women willing to lay down their lives for their family, friends, and nation.
I sometimes ponder on the great scenes of the past---Lexington and Concord, Shiloh and Gettysburg, the Argonne Forest and the doughboys, Baton and Iwo Jima, Bastogne and D-Day, Pork Chop Hill, Khe Sanh, 9/11, Fallujah, and Kandahar.
I think about my somber visits, as a congressman serving on the Armed Services Committee, to severely injured military members and their families at Bethesda Navy Hospital---who were often not allowed to even to have a mirror to see their defacement. Visiting severely injured servicemen and women (and their families) was difficult, but I always left with a lifted spirit inspired by these brave and noble warriors and their families.
Many of these former warriors have succumbed to suicide at a very high rate. But many have gone on to selflessly serve their nation in many other ways, not least of which serving as members of congress.
That is why we must do all that we can do for our brave military veterans. And…under President Trump and this congress (such members that are represented here today like Sen. Capito, Sen. Manchin, Rep. Mooney and other members of the WV delegation) much has been done.
Much has been done to see that there are no longer veterans dying while waiting to receive care. Much has been done to treat mental illness, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and drug and alcohol addiction as well as preventing suicides. Nonetheless suicides continue…
And finally, there are those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is those whom we owe the most in honor and respect because as in Lincoln’s words, “they gave the last full measure of devotion” in order to preserve the union and to ensure our freedom.
That is what this day is about. Honoring our warriors, honoring our heroes, honoring those that gave everything for our freedom.
Today we are all brothers and sisters in arms joined together – no matter from what service – as Veterans, as heroes, as Americans.
I salute all of you and I thank you for the privilege of being here with you today and sharing my story.
God bless you!
God bless America!