June 19, 2014

Kaine Delivers Floor Speech Introducing The 'Welcome Home' Resolution

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Mr. President, I rise today to talk about an American memory and the absence of a memory. And the lesson that I draw both from the memory and the absence compels me to introduce a resolution today.

First the memory. I would submit that the most known photograph in the history of the United States is the Alfred Eisenstadt photo of a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square. If you google V.J. Day photo, you'll find more than 31 million links.

Joy, celebration, gratitude, the photo says it all. It was important to celebrate the end of that war and to thank those from that Greatest Generation who had made it possible by serving. And we've continued to celebrate them, Mr. President, most recently in the recent commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.

Now the absence of a memory. Where was that photo -- that joy at the end of the Vietnam War? There was none. No iconic photo, no ritual moment of celebration and thanks. And that was a mistake.

This generation of Americans, Mr. President, has lived through a war that began in the days after 9/11. I recently heard a student about the same age as our pages here say, “While I don't know war, all I've known is war. While I don't know war, all I've known is war.” The combination of operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn have lasted thirteen years. It is the longest period of war in the history of the United States. And during these thirteen years of war, over two and a half million Americans have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands completing multiple tours. This is from an all-volunteer force that comprises less than one percent of the American population. More than 68 hundred members of the armed services have been killed in action and more than 52,000 have been wounded in action.  And now, this long period of war and sacrifice is coming to an end. U.S. Combat operations in Iraq ceased in 2011, and all U.S. Combat operations in Afghanistan will end this year, by the end of 2014.

Now of course, while the combat mission may end, the sense of duty of our service members continues, and global challenges continue. And U.S. Troops will remain in Afghanistan in noncombat positions just as U.S. Troops remained in Germany or Japan or Korea in noncombat posts. But in a deep and fundamental way, 2014 represents the end of a momentous and generation-defining war. And the question for this generation of Americans is “how will we commemorate the end of this war?”

When the war started, it started with a catastrophic attack upon the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon in Virginia. With solemn speeches by the President to Congress and to the American public, whether delivered here in the Capitol or standing on piles of rubble at ground zero, with Congress debating and voting to do the most serious thing a nation ever does, which is go to war -- it began, as serious undertakings should, with a sense of seriousness and purpose and even ritual. That is how this war began in America. How will we choose to end it?

Will we take steps to publicly commemorate the end of the war? Or will we allow the important moment to just pass unacknowledged and unrecognized with no iconic moment or memory? Will we celebrate with and thank those who have served, or will we just turn our attention to the next headline or the next issue or the next scandal or the next crisis?

I believe that as a generation, we do not want to repeat the mistake of the Vietnam era and allow the sacrifice of so many to just pass unnoticed. And so together, with my cosponsor, Senators Burr and Blumenthal, I introduce today a resolution calling on the nation to hold a special "welcome home" commemoration on Veterans Day 2014.

November 11 is the day we honor the sacrifice and service of every generation of American veterans. November 11, 1918, was generally regarded as the end of hostilities in World War I, and since 1938, America has paused on November 11 to recognize veterans of all wars.

This year, after 13 years of war, we want to designate November 11, 2014, as a special "welcome home" commemoration for all who have served in the military since September 11th. We introduce this bill with the strong support of veterans' organizations, the American legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Vietnam Veterans of America.

The resolution promotes special awareness of our post-9/11 veterans. It encourages communities in the United States to plan activities for Veterans Day 2014 with a special focus on honoring and supporting those who've served during this time. Mr. President, I imagine as Mayor, you had Veterans Day commemorations in Newark. As Governor, we had them in Virginia. And communities all over the country are right now planning what they'll do on November 11, 2014. This provides our citizens with a formal opportunity to present a unified recognition all across this country at a designated moment of the sacrifices made by our greatest generation.

Now, Mr. President, this resolution is not all we must do for our post-9/11 veterans. We owe them a better V.A. System. We owe them a job market that understands and values their skills. And, with so many of our colleagues, we'll keep working on those issues.

And, Mr. President, this resolution doesn't stand for the end of wars or conflicts more generally. The daily papers will always be filled with wars and rumors of war around the globe. And we know that American troops will continue to stand ready to serve in harm's way for our best values.

But for everything there is a season, and in this year, where we finish the wars started earlier in this millennium, it's time to welcome home our post-9/11 veterans, to shine a light on their honor and sacrifice, to celebrate with those who have borne the battle and to remember with affection those who will never return.

Mr. President, I yield the floor. And I note the absence of a quorum.