In chronicling the often turbulent truly incredible history of the twentieth century, Tom Brokaw coined a phrase that captured our imagination, while capturing the story in the character of American’s who came of age in an era marked by equal measures of sacrifice and commitment and achievement. He called these Americans the greatest generation. Now who earns the right to be numbered among the greatest generation? So let me take you back to the darkest hour of the last century.
In the aftermath of the Imperial Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the fall of Wake Island and Guam and Singapore and with the Philippines under siege with Hitler’s army stretching from the coast of France to the gates of Stalingrad. President Roosevelt went on the radio to deliver one of his fireside chats. He told the nation, this generation of American’s has come to realize that a present and personal realization that there is something larger and more important than the life of any individual or any individual group, something for which a man will sacrifice, and gladly sacrifice, not only his pleasures, not only his goods, not only his associations with those he loves but his life itself. In time of crisis when the future is in the balance we come to understand with full recognition and devotion what this nation is and what we owe it. Those words, that night at that hour of darkness would foretell the turning point in the war and serve as a call to arms to a generation of young Americans.
And today, in this magnificent shipyard which itself gains renown for its role in building the navy that waged the battle in the Atlantic and won the war in the Pacific. We pause from the toil of shipbuilding to pay tribute to one who answered President Roosevelt’s call and signed on to defend freedom. Now in telling the story of the extraordinary career of service and achievement of Petty Officer third class, Captain, United States Marine Corps, Undersecretary, Secretary, Commissioner, Senator, Chairman, Statesman John Warner. Today’s distinguished speakers have told a story or our nation from that second great war of the last century to Korea to Vietnam throughout the cold war to Iraq and Afghanistan near seven decades.
And today Senator, returning to your beloved Navy, to lay the keel of a ship, a submarine, that in bearing your name, in service through the middle of this century, for more than a hundred years after that young 17 year old first answered the call. You are forging a link to the generations of sailors who yearn to follow in your footsteps, a strong link and a long chain of Americans who understand with full recognition and devotion what this nation is and what we owe it.
Senator Warner, I have been blessed to witness you, with your hand on the helm of our ship of state, our armed services in rough seas. Your determination to put politics aside to always act in the best interest of our country, taught us, your passionate care for our men and women in uniform for our wounded warriors moved us. Your leadership alongside your fellow veterans in the senate in passing that landmark legislation, the Webb, Hagel, Lautenberg, Warner GI Bill inspired us. I think I speak for all of us here today, in saying that if you were the only member of your generation it would still be the greatest generation.