Good morning. At the end of my tenure as Secretary, there’s no celebration I’d rather share in than this, joining all of you to help give Veterans a home.
Kevin Morton [Director, Washington DC VA Medical Center], great to see you here.
What a beautiful space, this patio—a peaceful retreat where Veterans can relax, reflect, and enjoy each other’s company. I’m told they’re a tight group. The Home Depot Foundation donated it, and then Home Depot employees volunteered and built it, landscaped it. So, thanks to The Home Depot Foundation for once again partnering to help Veterans.
Let me recognize a local community non-profit. It’s thanks to the work and generosity of good people at A Wider Circle that Veterans living here have furnished apartments. Mark [Bergel, Founder and Executive Director of D.C.’s A Wider Circle], thank you.
And I’ll introduce VA’s social services team stationed here at Conway. Their families are Veteran families. Their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and cousins have served during peace and war—World War II, the Gulf War, and Iraq. So these three ladies know what it means to care for Veterans and their families. They’ve been doing it their whole lives.
Amanda, Nina, Ideanne, please stand. Thank you for embracing Veterans. God bless you.
The view on North Capitol Street, looking down the road and seeing the United States Capitol, it’s incredible. Think of the symbolism of that view.
I first imagined how Veterans could walk out, look down North Capitol [Street] and see that beautiful dome, a symbol of all they sacrificed for in their service to the Nation. It’s heartwarming.
But that wasn’t the right perspective. Imagine this, instead.
From the Capitol, Congressmen look to the west and see the Washington Monument. Beyond the Washington Monument are the hallowed grounds of the World War II monument, the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial. Beyond those monuments and memorials our representatives and senators see the Lincoln Memorial. Inside, there’s that powerful rendering of President Lincoln looking to the east with a stern, solemn, compassionate expression.
It’s as if he’s keeping watch over the Veterans of Vietnam, Korea, World War II—just as he watched over his beloved Union soldiers who saved our country in the Civil War. It is as if he’s repeating again and again to our Congress and, by extension, every American, sacred words etched in stone from his Second Inaugural Address: Care for those who have “borne the battle” and their families.
That’s VA’s mission—the most noble mission in government. It’s my mission—as VA Secretary, as a Veteran myself, and as an American benefiting from the rights, privileges, and opportunities Veterans sacrificed to preserve and protect, for every American. Sacrificed for the sake of the simple truth that “all men are created equal.” Sacrificed for the sake of those unalienable rights we cherish still today—“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Sacrificed for “a more perfect Union” that brave young men and women still volunteer to defend. Amanda’s brother First Lieutenant Carl Johnson is defending it in Iraq right now. He’s been there over 9 months. He’ll be home in a couple of weeks.
Here’s the point, and I don’t know to what degree this is by human design, or the divine. But part of the genius of putting the John & Jill Ker Conway Residence right here on North Capitol Street is so Veterans living here can look to their south and see the Capitol.
But it’s all the more genius, magnificent, meaningful, and powerful because Congress can look to their north to see this place—a high example of exactly what President Lincoln meant when he charged the nation to care for those who have “borne the battle,” and their families.
That’s why we’re here today.
Thanks to all of you for your passion, your compassion, and your deep devotion to Veterans. It’s been my honor to serve as their Secretary.
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We hope you enjoy these images from the 2023 Alumni Parade and Distinguished Graduate Award Ceremony at West Point.