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Gen. Demspey's Remarks at the Gold Star Mothers 75th Convention

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Washington, D.C.
GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: (In progress) – doesn’t make much of an impression actually. (Laughter.) No, well, Deanie and I are – we really are honored to be here. To my New Jersey brethren over there, I usually ask the staff to find something on this date in history, and what they – they actually – in an apologetic way, they said, you know, it was kind of a slow day in history, but we did notice that on this day in history in 1864, New Jersey became a state. I said – that’s important – (applause.)

We’re thrilled to be here. I told Norma that there’s a couple of organizations in the – in this country that if they ask me to come to do something, I’m there. And this is one of them. And so Deanie and I truly are honored to be part of your celebration, which, I guess, began on Wednesday. And I’ve been getting brought up to speed on the things you’ve done, and I’m really glad that you’ve gotten together, because I do believe the trials that you’ve been through, you get through them by bonding together. And let me tell you why I know that.

By the way, nobody – nobody can say they know what you’ve been through. And I know that’s a shift. But I am a cancer survivor, and I remember when the doctor said to me about 18 months ago actually – well, actually now about 20 months ago, he said, hey, you got a throat cancer. And I said, how serious is it? He said, well, you know, if you don’t treat it, you’re going to die. And I said, wow.

So we went through the treatment regimen, and what I realized was no matter how many stars or how many ribbons you get, it – you know, when something like that happens to you, no matter how – no matter how solid you think you are personally, you’ve got to have a team around, you’ve got to have people around you, you’ve got to have a relationship, you’ve got to have a spirit. You know, so I became – you know, I got back in touch with the spiritual side of me. My wife was there constantly helping me to – you know, the team of doctors down at Portsmouth Naval [Hospital] pulled together, and here I am.

So, you know, I do have a sense of what it takes to get through that kind of trauma, but I would never ever suggest that I know what you’ve been through. But I am thrilled that you’re here going through it together. So well done to the Gold Star – to moms and Gold Star dads and Gold Star Family Association. Yeah – (applause).

I’m going to tell you in about two or three minutes how we’re doing, because, you know, your sons and daughters, in some cases husbands, sacrificed to make sure that this country would remain the country it is. And so you’re probably watching the news and reading the newspapers or getting into the blogosphere and hearing all the stuff about, you know, how the budget is whacking us around and how dangerous the world is. And there is a sense out there of some people who think that maybe we’re a military in decline. We’re not. And I really mean that. I’m not – and I don’t say that just because I have to say it, I have tried to be a chairman who tells the truth. I mean, I think we all do, but I am absolutely convinced that at this point in our history, it’s even more important.

So we did take the bit of a budget shock about nine months ago now. But it’s kind of – it’s within historic norms. I guess what’s different about this budget shock is it comes at a time when the world’s not getting any safer. But my message to you is we can figure it out, given what we have, given what we know, given the wonderful young men and women who serve. That’s the piece of this that the media misses, by the way. (Applause.) What the media misses is that we’re – whatever happens to us, we’re building on a foundation of greater strength than probably at any time in our history.

And I mean, I remember graduating from West Point in ‘74, the first fight that I got involved in was Desert Storm, so 17 years later. And there was a time in the intervening years when you do wonder is the – is the fabric tough enough, will we have courage like our predecessors did, will we be willing to sacrifice? And, you know, if we can’t answer that question in the affirmative now, we’re just not paying attention, because the kids that are out there are courageous, they’re selfless, they’re smart, they’re dedicated and they – and they’re – you know, they’re just irrepressible. You can’t ask them – they will do anything to take care of this country and what it stands for.

So whatever happens – (applause) – so whatever happens, you know, we’re building on a foundation of incredible strength. And as long as that remains true, as long as we keep recruiting the right kind of kids and keeping the right kind of kids, my commitment to you is we’ll be fine.

So I want to compliment Norma [Luther] as she ends her year of – tour of duty as the president of this august organization. I actually wish my tour of duty was only one year. (Laughter.) But I’m afraid that – I’m afraid the country’s stuck with me for a couple. But – so I would like to ask you all who have benefited from Norma’s incredibly hard work to give her a round of applause. (Applause.) And then Mary [Byers] earlier, who will take up the gavel – I don’t know if you – what do you pass, a gavel or a mantel or – is it a gavel?

MS. BYERS: Yeah.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, very nice. So Mary will take up the gavel, and thank you for taking on that leadership. (Applause.)

So I mentioned that the thing that always inspires Deanie and I when we come to these events is the – is just seeing you get together and kind of share the – share the challenges and the personal trials that you’ve gone through. So you’ve probably heard that I have a reputation for singing. (Laughter.) And, you know, my – when I asked this – my – I have a little core group of speechwriters and told them how important that this event was for me, that I really wanted to make sure that I – that I did right by the association, by the Gold Star families that were present here, and they said, oh, hell, sir, don’t give a speech. Just sing. (Laughter.)

So I got zero help from my staff, and they kind of left me hanging. But that’s OK, because maybe this is not a night about learning anything. Maybe it’s just one of those nights where you ought to feel good about being together. (Applause.) Now I’m not promising the song I’m going to sing is making – going to make you feel good about being here. (Laughter.) That might be a standard that I should probably not establish. But I will tell you there is a song from a – you know, I’m Irish, I mean, you can’t mistake it. I’ve got the map of Ireland on my face. (Applause.) But I’m not going to sing an Irish song. I’m not going far; I’m going to a sing a song by a Scotsman actually, a guy named Dougie MacLean. Some of you might know Dougie MacLean. Dougie MacLean is a folk singer, started singing in the ‘80s, still singing today. I saw that he had a concert recently someplace around the country, and he sang a song by the title of “This Love Will Carry” – “This Love Will Carry.”

And by the way, when I say I’m going to sing, what I really mean is so are you. (Laughter.) I mean – and I’m the chairman, so, you know. And with Norma’s permission, I’m going to assert myself here. And you’re going to – and I’m – by the way, I recognize singing after the Singing Sergeants is a little bit of a threat. (Laughter.) It’s sort of – you know, you – but, see, anybody can sing with all that stuff. (Laughter.) I mean, they have – you know, I don’t – I think that actually makes their voices different. So you’re actually going to hear my voice. That wasn’t them; it was definitely in that box over there.

But I would like you to help me with the chorus, and the chorus goes: This love will carry. This love will carry me. I know this love will carry me. And think about what you’ve been through. And I – you know, I don’t – again, I don’t know, but I suspect that what has gotten you through this a lot of love. So let’s see if we can sing the chorus of that together when it comes around. And you’ll recognize it. We’ll sing it – it’ll go twice after the first verse, twice after the second and three times after the third. So if you haven’t figured it out by the third time – (laughter) – Norma.

OK, cue the music. With apologies to Dougie MacLean. (Sings.) It’s strong ties that bind us and shelter us from pain. Though dark clouds quickly gather along the way we came. There’s fear out on the mountain and sorrow on the plain. There’s heartbreak and heartache in the shadow of the flame. And here’s the chorus. This love will carry. This love will carry me. I know this love will carry me. As soon as you pick it up, belt it out. (Laughter.)

This love will carry. This love will carry me. I know this love will carry me. The strongest web will tangle, the sweet blossom fell. And somewhere in the distance, we try and catch it all. Success lasts for a moment. The future’s never clear. Look down at your blistered hands as goes another year.

Here we go. But this love will carry. This will carry me. I know this love will carry me. You’re getting better. (Laughter.) This love will carry. This love will carry me. I know this love will carry me. These days are golden. They will not waste away. Our time is like that flower, it blossoms every day. And though by storms we’re weakened, our friendship is true. And like the coming of the dawn, it’s ours forevermore.

Here we go, three times. But this love will carry. This love will carry me. I know this love will carry me. This love will carry. This love will carry me. I know this love will carry me. One more time. This love will carry. This love will carry me. I know this love will carry me. Oh, gee. Thank you very much. (Applause.) (Off mic.)

UNKNOWN: Thank you, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Thanks very much. We’re awful proud of you. We – you know, based on that song, I’ll tell you that those of us still serving love you. And all that means we’ll do everything we can to honor the sacrifices that your loved ones have made. We’re not going to let this country – we’re not going to let this country be placed at risk, and we’ll do whatever we’ve got to do to keep the United States armed forces strong.

Only thing I’ll say about that song, by the way, if there’s any copyright lawyers in the audience – (laughter) – I did rewrite it a bit, you know, to make it fit the occasion a little better. But that’s my gift to you, and you’re our gift to the United States. Thanks very much. (Applause.)

I forgot one thing. Norma’s been – (inaudible) – but they were a few of you that wanted to get a picture taken. And I don’t want to – I will not leave here tonight until anyone who wants a – I’m not sure you – why you want it, by the way – (laughter) – but that said, if anybody wants to get a picture, I’m going to move from table to table, try not to disrupt Norma while she’s working the crowd. But I’ll move around the room a bit, and if you want to get a picture, I’d be happy to have it with you. Thanks. (Applause.)