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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I thank the distinguished leader. I say to him, as you referred to: Two Senators who worked on this, coincidentally, it is the Presiding Officer, the Senator from Michigan, Mr. Levin, who is in the chair to whom you were referring. We both thank you, and we thank Senator McConnell and all Members of the Senate for their support in passing this key piece of legislation.

Sometimes people are concerned that this institution does not quite work in a manner in which is easily comprehensible. But this is an effort that has been one that you and I and all the members of our committee and the distinguished staff whom we have on the committee have worked on throughout this year.

I say to the Presiding Officer, you are the chairman. I am now the senior serving Republican on it, the former chairman, having served with you. Senator McCain is the ranking member. By reason of necessity, he is absent; otherwise, he would be standing here today in terms of the bill.

This bill is not about us, though. It is about the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families and their loved ones and their friends. The Constitution provides very explicitly that the President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. To the legislative branch--the Congress of the United States--is entrusted the care and welfare and safety and, indeed, protection of the men and women of the Armed Forces.

Now, I commend the distinguished Presiding Officer, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator CARL LEVIN of Michigan, with whom I have worked these 30 years, side by side, on this committee. This is a good bill. There were times when I think we could have made it stronger. But given the rules of the Senate, which I respect, as does the Presiding Officer, and all other Senators, we were not able to quite achieve those goals. But that is the nature of the Senate. The minority has a very respected and powerful voice in this Senate, and it is right and just that it be heard.

So despite the fact this bill may not have all the features and important provisions I and the Senator from Michigan and other members of our committee and other Senators might have had incorporated in this bill, it is still a very fine bill. It adequately--most adequately--cares for the men and women of the Armed Forces.

Again, I commend the distinguished chairman, the Senator from Michigan, my friend of these 30 years.


Mr. WARNER. Madam President, I thank my dear friend. If I could take a moment. I wish to join the Senator in thanking our respective leaders, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell and the members of the committee and the staff, once again, and indeed the members of the leadership staff and the floor staff who made possible this bill.

But I wish to tell a short personal story since this is my last bill.

I just walked through Senator Reid's office. He asked me to come in and visit with him privately a minute. As I passed by, I looked up on the wall, and there was a portrait of Harry Truman. I had the privilege of serving in the Navy in World War II--the closing year of World War II--as a young 17-year-old, 18-year-old sailor, and never dreaming I would ever be a Senator--that was the furthest thing from my mind--a 17-year-old, 18-year-old sailor.

It was one of the darkest hours of the United States. Roosevelt was then President. Truman was Vice President. It was the winter of 1945. I, similar to so many young men at that time--and those women who joined the military also--signed up and volunteered. We wanted to be a part of this. The war had gone unexpectedly the wrong way in Europe for a while when Hitler trapped our divisions and Allied divisions in the Battle of the Bulge. Iwo Jima was underway. Okinawa, a terrific battle, was on the horizon.

America was all together, and we were determined to establish our freedom in the world. But I remember my first night--I had been on a steam train for about 2 days, working its way up to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. It would stop at the station, and 17-, 18-year-old guys would get on the train, and they would be in those old cars, cold, shivering, with no food that I can remember to speak of. We arrived at the Great Lakes at about 4 o'clock in the morning. We all were herded off the train into a great big gymnasium. A fellow, a chief petty officer--he was as big around as he was tall; I remember a very big fellow--got up, and he had a bullhorn, and shouted at us. I remember the words--here it was 65 years ago, 66 years ago--as if it were this minute. He said: All you guys who can't read and write, raise your hand.

Well, I had been in a wonderful home. My father provided well as a medical doctor, with the best of schools, even though I left school to join the Navy. I did not know people who did not know how to read and write. Some of the other guys' hands were raised, and the fellow said, through the bullhorn: All right, you smart guys, fill out the forms for the others. So I and others went over to help those people fill out their forms--put their X on it. The next day, we were in the training camps side by side, all training.

Those men went on to different tasks in the military but important tasks. There were many jobs in our military that did not require an education, but they were as important a part of the force as those of us, I guess, who felt we were a little smarter.

But why do I tell that story? I later served in the Marines. So I look back over these 60 years. I have spent a great deal of my life associated with the men and women of the Armed Forces. My Active service is of no great consequence.

But the thing I have always remembered is that you and I, as a team, I say to the Senator--all these years we have been working here, we have been working to improve and make possible that the current generation of young men going into the uniform, and women, have the same advantages my generation had: The GI bill--working with Senator Webb recently to get that through.

I always feel I am a Senator today because of all the military men and women whom I have served with, who have trained me, who have disciplined me, who have inspired me. They performed the same duty I did that cold night in 1945. They have helped me fill out the forms. I have learned from them, have had the wisdom to work with you and others to put together these legislative measures for their benefit.

So I close my last words thanking all those in uniform who have so generously given to me their wisdom, their friendship, their inspiration, and their courage to do what little I have been able to do as a Senator to help me fill out the forms and put my X on this my last bill.

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