Senator Chuck Grassley was honored today as the recipient of the American Legion's 2009 National Commander's Distinguished Public Service Award.
The American Legion presents the award annually to elected officials that have repeatedly demonstrated statesmanship and leadership while establishing an outstanding record preserving and nurturing the tenets of freedom, justice and democracy. Congressman Neil Smith is the only other Iowan to receive this prestigious award.
"The American Legion has dedicated itself to preserving and protecting American values. Their work in defense of these values has helped keep the flame of liberty burning through thick and thin," Grassley said. "I take great honor and pride in receiving this award from such a well respected and patriotic organization like the American Legion."
Below are Senator Grassley's comments from the American Legion Convention in Washington. Click here to view the video from the event. The video will also be loaded onto Senator Grassley's YouTube channel later this afternoon.
Remarks by Senator Charles E. Grassley
American Legion Convention, March 3, 2009
Thank you Dave, and thank you all. More importantly thank you for your service to your country, your continued service to your country and what you do through this great organizations. And thank you to all those people that are serving today to protect our freedoms.
I am very honored to be one of the select few to have received this award over the years and I've had an opportunity to see that long list of Members of Congress that have received this award and I proudly join them.
I'm especially proud to be a member of the Sons of the American Legion, it means a great deal to me. Particularly because my dad, a WWI veteran was a proud member of Geyer-Bricker Post - New Hartford, Iowa and he never served in the high honor of being Commander but for years and years going way beyond a decade, he was a service officer. As a service officer I know he proudly wanted to help those widows and veterans that needed help from the VA.
Before I go any further, I want to congratulate you all on an outstanding choice for your national commander, an Iowan.
I have known Dave for a long time as he regularly comes here and meets me in Iowa to advocate for veterans and advocate for the strong role that the American Legion serves.
His lifelong service to his country exemplifies that great organization that we're proud of: the American Legion.
I am proud that he's from Iowa.
It is particularly meaningful to me to be honored by an organization like the American Legion.
When I think of the American Legion, I think of patriotism.
Everything you do stems from a firm dedication to preserve and protect American values.
That's because you have quite literally fought for those American values.
Patriotic organizations like the American Legion also play a crucial role in our society.
As the memory of past conflicts fade, there is a temptation for many Americans to take their freedom for granted.
At the birth of our country, the situation was very different.
Every American was keenly aware of the fragile and precarious nature of our new republic.
In fact, our dream of a nation founded in liberty must have been a very long shot at that time.
Still, our patriot forefathers concluded that this dream was worth fighting for and took up arms.
All hopes rested on those brave men and everyone knew it.
In more recent times, we have occasionally been jolted out of our complacency into realizing that our liberty can still be threatened.
We are reminded that our freedom is preserved to this day only through the sacrifices of our brave fighting forces.
Liberty is far more common in the world today, thanks in large part to the United States leadership that has been won by our military.
But it remains fragile.
It is also still worth preserving.
Nevertheless, a false sense of security seems to pervade many older democracies.
For the younger generation in many countries, the Nazi and fascist threat exists only in history books.
But, I've noticed that the need to stand strong in the face of threats to freedom is more immediately grasped by some of our newer allies in central and eastern Europe.
The painful memories of communist bondage still loom large and there's only been 20 years of freedom for those people.
It's only natural that they find common cause with the United States, the greatest beacon of freedom in the world.
You understand better than anyone that a strong national defense remains essential to preserving our free society.
Being prepared to defend ourselves against any threat is the best way to reduce the chance that we will have to do so.
But when it becomes necessary, we must not waiver.
It is one of the tenets of Islamic extremists that American society has become weak and decadent.
That we lack the will to fight for what we believe in and will not endure a prolonged conflict. That attitude, we have to show the rest of the world we don't have.
I strongly believe we'll continue to prove those extremists wrong!
Our freedom does not come without cost.
I=m reminded of peaceful fields in foreign countries containing rows of white headstones with American names.
These were young people, far from the comforts of home, knowing they may have to make the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow countrymen.
From the winter encampment at Valley Forge, to the current days in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, those wearing the American uniform have endured physical and mental hardships, separation from family and friends, and the horrors of battle.
We cannot fully appreciate the values of freedom without honoring the service of our nation's veterans and those serving today.
Most of us recall a period in our nation's history when those who had served their country honorably were slandered and abused in a shameful way.
I think that spoke to a deeper waywardness in American society.
Some parts of our society were coming unmoored from the values of our Founding Fathers.
Values like individual liberty and most importantly selfless public and military service.
The American Legion has always stood foursquare behind traditional American values.
Your defense of these values has helped keep the flame of liberty burning through thick and thin.
I take it as a hopeful sign that, today, virtually everyone feels compelled to pay tribute to the service of our men and women in uniform-- even those that don't fully support their mission.
With the current War on Terror, there seems to be more understanding of the need to step up the way we care for veterans wounded in conflict.
With changes in how we conduct warfare and new developments in medical care, comes new types of challenges for veterans.
Just like the axiom that generals tend to "fight the last war", our care and support systems are slow to adapt to the changing needs of veterans.
The signature wound of Iraq and Afghanistan is traumatic brain injury.
Better equipment and medical treatment is saving lives, but leaving survivors with new kinds of wounds that are less visible.
PTSD also continues to be a problem.
It is not new to servicemen, but the intensity of some of the fighting in the Middle East has taken its toll.
In both cases, we have a challenge not only in ensuring the ability and capacity to treat these wounds, but in recognizing the symptoms and getting veterans to the help they need.
Failure to do so can sometimes result in tragedy.
That was the case with Joshua Omvig from Grundy Center, Iowa.
That's why I worked with Senator Harkin to enact the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act.
Among other things, our bill put in place new requirements for the VA to reach out to veterans and their families in order to identify veterans struggling with PTSD before it's too late.
I don't pretend to have all the answers though.
Nobody understands a veteran's needs like that veteran him or herself.
That's why it's so important that members of the American Legion help to educate members of Congress.
It's a vital part of your mission - a mission you do well.
When people talk of First Amendment rights, they usually mean Freedom of Speech or Free Exercise of Religion, but it also includes the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Denial of that right to the American colonists, when we had taxation without representation, led to our drive for independence.
For an organization committed to upholding the Constitution, it's fitting that the American Legion has never been bashful about exercising your right to petition the government.
I spoke before about the Legion's defense of American values.
One of the ways that the Legion has helped secure the blessings of liberty for future generations is your work with young people.
I participated in Boy's State in 1950.
In fact I lost my first election there.
I also have members of my staff who participated in Boy's State and Girl's State so I should thank you for encouraging their interest in government.
I worry about the cynicism that I see in so many young people about their government, though.
In a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" no one should feel like they cannot make a difference.
Too many young people either think that they can't make a difference or feel that the only way they can be heard is to protest in the streets.
Perhaps they just don't know how to participate in our great democratic system.
If they aren't learning that at home or at school, one place they can learn about it is people like you talking to them.
Your work to instill American values in the next generation is extremely valuable.
Keep up the good work.
As I said before, everything you do stems from a sense of patriotism.
In Great Britain, patriotism is expressed in devotion to the Queen.
However, in a country founded on the principal that government derives their just powers from the consent of the governed, national devotion to any individual would be highly inappropriate.
So, we look to the flag to represent what our country stands for.
The Stars and Stripes is more than a piece of cloth.
Our flag represents the Constitution of the United States.
It represents liberty and unalienable rights, that are not guaranteed to us by our government, but are guaranteed to us by our Creator.
It represents everything I have been talking about.
Countless Americans have fought and died for that flag and the values it represents.
That is why an organization like the American Legion, dedicated to promoting patriotism, is so committed to defending the flag.
That's also why I am committed to a constitutional amendment to protect the flag.
We came close to sending such an amendment to the states for ratification in 2006.
I supported it strongly both in the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.
But, in the end we were one vote shy of the two-thirds needed.
A lot has changed since we had that last vote and I can't predict when we'll have enough votes to get over that hurdle.
But, I know you won't give up. And as long as I'm a Senator from Iowa I won't give up because I've been around long enough to know that if you're on the right side of an issue, and you keep fighting, eventually you will succeed, because eventually in this town, right succeeds.
So, continue as you have, and I can promise you that I'll be right there with you.
As I conclude, let me just say that your dedication to your country is an inspiration to me. It's an inspiration to a lot of people who don't understand what national defense is all about. It's about protecting our freedoms. Continue to be that inspiration.
I salute the patriotism of each and every one of you, not just those of you here, but every member of your organization.
It has been a great honor to be with you today and I thank you again for this high honor.
Thank you very much.