Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Naval Academy Founder's Day
Aviation Museum, HI
April 14, 2018
Thanks, Alma, for that terrific introduction. Before getting started, let me take a moment to acknowledge:
Good evening and thank you for inviting Bruni and me to be a part of this year’s Founder’s Day celebration ... albeit six months early but it’s great to connect again with the great Americans who are part of the Naval Academy ohana.
- The U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association of Hawaii, thank you for hosting this ceremony … Makani Christensen’s first event as Chapter President;
- Special thanks to all those who had a hand in its planning; • Honorable Councilman Martin … Assistant Secretary James Kelly;
- Admirals Macke, Durand and Grocki, Mr. John Wood, my classmates Jim VanDerKamp and Rich Chapman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen …
Folks I am acutely aware that the greatest speech in American history was given by President Lincoln at Gettysburg and it lasted just a little over 2 minutes – and Julius Caesar probably gave the longest speech and his friends killed him. I’ll try to keep Julius Caesar in mind while I deliver my remarks tonight.
Fair warning, though: As many of you know, I hail from the Class of 1978 and proudly hold the title of the Old Goat – the longest-serving Naval Academy graduate currently on active duty. My classmates Marc Ferguson and Cecil Haney preceded me, and another 78 grad, Admiral Kurt Tidd, will assume the Old Goat duties once I retire. Whatever else we might be known for, the class of 1978 may hold the record for alumni endurance. So you may need to get comfortable as I get into my speech here.
Living in Hawaii, we cannot help but be aware of the contributions of those Academy graduates who served before us. And none loom larger than Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. I’m humbled to have commanded the Pacific Fleet, which he led to victory in World War II, and today I serve in the Nimitz-MacArthur headquarters building at United States Pacific Command, where I am greeted by his image every day as I enter my office. And I’m further humbled to know we both wear the rings of Naval Academy graduates.
Ironically, Admiral Nimitz originally hoped to attend West Point, inspired by an Army officer passing through his hometown of Fredrickburg, Texas. His congressman had no appointments left for the military academy, but he had one left for Annapolis, which Nimitz competed for and won. This unlikely path led to him graduating with distinction from the class of 1905, and the rest, of course, is history.
Come to think of it, I don’t know that the Academy intended that I graduate either. So we have that in common as well.
As I was preparing for this speech and reflected on the Academy’s history and traditions, as well as part of its legacy, I realized that we – as alumni – have more in common than just a school, a ring, and a uniform.
What connects us across the generations is our shared service … our shared values … and our shared hopes for our great nation. For 173 years, the U.S. Naval Academy has graduated leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service … leaders who have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government.
Today, America remains the brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world. And we owe a debt of gratitude to our Armed Forces who’ve given so much to ensure that this great nation stays free.
Thankfully, our nation has always been blessed with strong women and men of exceptional courage and character – patriots who are willing to step forward to do whatever it takes to defend America whenever Lady Liberty is in jeopardy.
And they’ve answered the clarion call to defend our nation time and time again, on every front and in every battle. From the Mexican War … to World War I and World War II … to the Cold War, in Korea and Vietnam … to 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya … to the ongoing battle against ISIS … and just last night the strikes against Syria … our Midshipmen have served proudly – and with distinction – standing the watch in an unbroken chain, from generation to generation.
For 173 years, the brave men and women of our Naval Academy have stepped forward to defend our freedoms, risking their lives for the land, for the people, and for the ideals that we all cherish.
Our battles, our victories, indeed our very way of life, are owed not to great moments or important dates. They are owed to the actions and the sacrifices of women and men who were willing to step into the breach for their country and for the cause of freedom.
America is the country she is because of her heroes, past and present. People who put the nation’s interest above self-interest ... who put patriotism above profit ... and who put love of country above love of self.
Now, more than ever, America needs women and men who are willing to forego wearing a business suit, forego strolling down Easy Street, and forego living the good life. To wear instead the cloth of the nation, and to sail a sea fraught with peril. To live instead a life on the ragged edge of danger. To live lives that matter on a fundamental level.
Our Midshipmen made that conscious choice to live a life of sacrifice and service for the greater cause. They chose to join our United States Armed Forces, and for our nation, that makes all the difference.
And while they each walked a different road, they all faced challenges, and they’ve proven themselves well-equipped to meet those challenges. President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘When life gets tough and the crisis is undeniably at hand … we will find nothing inside ourselves that we have not already put there.’
Now I’m not talking about physical strength and courage, though they will surely be needed that in abundance. I’m talking about the strength of character and integrity beyond reproach. These qualities are woven in us over a life-long process that begins in our homes, continues through our boot camps, the Naval Academy, and matures through our interactions and experiences in the Fleet.
Our Midshipmen come from all across America, representing the diversity and character of our great nation – and our Armed Forces are stronger for it. They’re leaders and volunteers, inside and outside of service. They’re role models for all of our citizens. They want to achieve and they want to win. Their fighting spirit is the backbone of our great nation. They exemplify the highest standards of service, at home and abroad, at sea and ashore, in combat and in times of peace.
Today, our United States Navy and Marine Corps are second to none – we have the most advanced warships, submarines, and aircraft … and the most lethal warriors … in the world. But the best equipment means little if you don’t have the hard-working, highly trained and dedicated Sailors and Marines to bring those platforms to life. And for many, this journey to becoming an officer of consequence and character begins at Annapolis.
So this Founder’s Day … as we reminisce about our past, present, and our collective future … let’s celebrate our rich heritage and legacy as we continue our unwavering support to the nation, to the Naval Academy, and to our alumni.
Alright folks, I’ve been up here awhile and Woody here has a bet how I’ll speak. And with baseball season underway, I’m reminded of a baseball team that was getting pounded in the first inning. The manager walked out of the dugout, headed directly to the mound, and takes the ball from the pitcher.
The pitcher protested, ‘Coach, it’s just the first inning! I’m not tired.’
The manager with a practiced eye, said, ‘Yeah, son, I know. But the outfielders sure are.’
So for all you outfielders out there, let me close with these thoughts.
First … we now live in a world where we must think, learn, and fight Jointly – and rightfully so. But make no mistake about it, today is a Navy day, where we go back to our roots and take special note of what lies at the very heart of every Naval Academy alumni … from Induction Day to Graduation, the Naval Academy’s mission is to develop Midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically, and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career in naval service. We learn and recite the Academy mission from day one, lest there be any doubt why we are there: The Nation expects us to become leaders. The standards are high because the stakes are high. From the depths of the oceans to the stars in the sky … we are all forged by the sea.
Second … as Saul Bellow once wrote that ‘Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance at bay.’
Well, no one who ever served in the United States Navy or Marine Corps should worry about the wolf of insignificance. Standing here tonight, I can honestly say that I’ve never been prouder to wear the cloth of the nation. From all sides of the kill chain, I expect our Navy and Marine Corps to be more relevant than ever.
And finally … our strength as a nation is drawn from those who served before us … and will draw its strength from those who will serve after us … an unbroken chain, linking Americans generation to generation.
Today’s joint forces have assumed liberty’s mantle, and no one should doubt that a strong Navy and Marine Corps will continue to stand a global watch for generations to come … as the legacy and lessons of previous wars are passed to our children, and our children’s children, who will also stand watch to continue the fight against oppression, against injustice, and against all those who would take our freedom.
May God bless you all, and all who have served before us. May God bless this truly beautiful state of Hawaii … and may God bless the United States of America, which has always been – and forever shall be – the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Thank you very much.