Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day Profiles in Courage

by Bill Doughty

Like a lot of people in my generation I was fascinated by JFK’s heroism in World War II aboard PT-109.  (A Navy Reads review of Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage" is coming soon.) Kennedy was a naval officer who fought in the Second World War, just like former presidents and veterans George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford.  Each of them would have an aircraft carrier namesake.  Ford’s ultra-modern, ultra-efficient CVN-78 was christened this weekend. The next Kennedy carrier, CVN-79, is being built over the next 8 years.

The Kennedy family’s Profile in Courage Award, established in 1989, is presented annually to “the nation’s public servants who have withstood strong opposition to follow what they believe to be the right course of action.”  The award has gone to people like state representative Dan Ponder Jr. (R-GA), U.S. Congressman John P. Murtha (D-PA), U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliot (D-AL), and most recently to former Arizona state representative and senator Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords of Americans for Responsible Solutions, formed with her husband former Navy Captain and astronaut Mark Kelly.  

In 2001, less than four months before 9/11, the Profile in Courage Award was presented to two statesmen: former President Gerald Ford and U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), who went into harm’s way (and was severely injured) in a different kind of war -- for civil rights.  In the past week, “March: Book One,” a graphic nonfiction book about Lewis’s struggle, along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was published and went to number one on a New York Times bestseller list.

The Kennedy award was presented to Ford for his courage in pardoning former President Richard Nixon after Nixon’s resignation in the face of the Watergate scandal.  Ford was known for his unimpeachable integrity.

In “Halsey’s Typhoon,” authors Drury and Clavin show how President Ford considered his wartime Navy experience in making the right decision for the good of the “ship of state.”

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I. Fighting ended in that war Nov. 11, 1918, one year after JFK was born and three years after Gerald Ford was born.  President Woodrow Wilson called for Nov. 11 to be set aside: 

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice...”

In 1961 President Kennedy signed the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Commission bill, with former first lady Mrs. Wilson at his side.

At the signing Kennedy said, “I hope the Commission will plan a memorial that expresses the faith in democracy and President Wilson's vision of peace and a dedication to international understanding that President Wilson himself did so much to advance.  He called for a New Freedom at home, and a world of unity and peace, and we are still striving to achieve these objectives.”

The Profile in Courage Award is made of sterling silver and is designed by Edwin Schlossberg, crafted by Tiffany & Co., and inspired by the lantern on USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy.  Read more about the award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum site.

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