Remarks by the Vice President Mike Pence at the Henry O. Flipper Dinner, West Point
Thank you, General Caslen. Your wife informed me that it was not booing that I heard when you came up, but it was “Supe.” (Laughter.) Give this wonderful superintendent a round of applause, would you please? He deserves it, and the nation is proud of your service. (Applause.)
General Holland, General Jebb, Captain Villanueva, distinguished guests, and core of cadets of the United States Military Academy — it is an extraordinary privilege for me to be with you tonight.
Two special guests are with me that I want to acknowledge. A man who I knew before he was even elected to the Congress, and now he is one of the most prominent members of the United States Senate; Senator Tim Scott is with us tonight just to be with all of you. Senator Scott, thank you for joining us this evening.
And my commanding officer is with us, as well. My wife of 31 years — (laughter) — Karen Pence is in the house. Would you make her feel welcome?
I’m very humbled to have raised my right hand just a few short weeks ago to accept the responsibilities and be Vice President of the United States of America.
And by the power vested in me, I hear by grant amnesty for all minor conduct offenses of those present.
I’m not sure I’ll be asked back now. But it’s really good to be with you all and, frankly, very humbling.
I came here on behalf of the President of the United States, your Commander-in-Chief, President Donald Trump, and I bring you his greetings and his gratitude.
I left the Oval Office when I headed to West Point this afternoon, and the President insisted that I send his greetings to all of you, his heartfelt thanks for your willingness to serve our great country.
But more than that, the President sends his commitment to you that President Donald Trump and this administration will stand with you as you stand to defend the United States of America.
I tell you it’s the greatest privilege of my life to serve with the 45th President. But it’s a special honor to serve with a President so dedicated to America’s Armed Forces.
You know, being here tonight is a humbling experience for me, and it’s very moving. You see, I’m not a soldier. My life did not take that path. But I am the son of a soldier and the proud father of a United States Marine.
My father, you’ll be glad to know, Ed Pence, was member of the United States Army. (Applause.) My dad served in combat in Korea. And he’s one of those people that earned some medals on this chest and came home and put them in the drawer. The best man I ever knew. He’s been gone some three decades now in our family, but he’s still the greatest influence on my life every day.
I’m not only the proud son of someone in the service, but my wife, Karen, and I are also the proud parents of a son who answered the call of duty. Our son is right now serving in the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. And like all of you, his highest hope is to serve our country with great distinction. And on behalf of all of your parents, these parents say, you all make us proud. Give yourselves a round of applause, would you please?
I know your parents have the same faith that we have, that each one of you are going to continue this path you have chosen with great distinction. We have faith in you and faith in the principles you’ve come to serve.
We have faith because of those who have walked this same path as you, in ages past. The training that you’re receiving here has been generations in the making.
I just had a wonderful gathering with a number of your most distinguished and accomplished fellow cadets. And I heard their calling here was not just to serve the country, but to grow as leaders.
We’re really standing — we’re standing where generations have stood — on hallowed ground. If you think about it, for over 200 years, men and women from across our country have come to these grounds, driven here by that call to serve, that call to leadership — of duty, honor, country.
They came here separately, in different eras, with different pasts. Yet they all left as one, didn’t they? Forever bound to each other each one of you are, as brothers and sisters, gripping hands in the Long Grey Line. And the American people are proud of each and every one of you in this room.
That line remains unbroken to this day, and so long as it continues, everyone who calls our country home can know with absolute certainty that the United States of America — our home, our homeland — will be safe.
So it is humbling for me to be here, one of the people that has been benefited by those countless generations that have gone before. It’s humbling especially to be where so many courageous Americans prepare to protect families like mine. And it’s humbling to stand before all of you, who gladly follow in their footsteps.
You are all already true leaders, and you are all already patriots.
President Trump and I thank you. We thank you for answering the call to serve your country — to put America first.
Now, President Trump has made a solemn promise to all of you and to everyone who wears the uniform. On Monday, he gave a speech earlier this week, in which he essentially promised to stand with and “protect those who protect us.” He promised in his words to give you “the tools, the equipment, the resources, the training, and the supplies you need to get the job done.” And he promised to “honor our sacred bond to those who serve.” These are the President’s promises to all of you. And make no mistake about it those promises will be kept in this administration.
That’s really why I’m here tonight on the President’s behalf. Honoring those who serve our country requires recognizing the men and women who achieve extraordinary things in the line of duty.
There’s a passage in the Old Book. I try and open it up and read it every morning. It says, “If you owe debts, pay debts. If honor, then honor. If respect, then respect.”
And tonight marks the 40th Annual Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper Dinner, which is all about doing just that. It commemorates a man who we just heard overcame extraordinary adversity — demonstrated leadership, self-discipline, and courage in service to this country.
The year 1877, only twelve years before, the horrible evil of slavery, that great stain on our experiment in self-government, had finally been eradicated in the fires of the Civil War. And out of those ashes emerged hope — hope that America’s founding promise of equality and freedom would finally be made real for all Americans.
It was in this hope that spurred Henry Flipper to write his congressman, James Freeman, to request an appointment to the finest military academy in the world. Henry’s skill with the written word impressed Freeman, we are told, who determined that he was indeed worthy.
So came Henry Flipper to where we stand today. All who attend West Point face many trials, but Henry Flipper faced many more that we all understand by virtue of his willingness to challenge the status quo, challenge the injustices of his day.
He persevered through four years, making history as the First African American ever to graduate from the United States Military Academy. But as we just heard his struggles would continue. He was ejected from the Army only four years later after being accused of a crime he did not commit.
After Henry passed away, a band of patriotic Americans took up his cause. And thanks to their efforts, the Army righted this wrong by retroactively awarding Henry Flipper an honorable discharge in 1976. And you heard that President Clinton pardoned him in the years that followed.
The following year after he was honorably discharged, his alma mater began to celebrate his accomplishments with the first installment of the dinner we have here tonight. Fittingly, I’m told the first Henry O. Flipper Dinner was held 100 years after his groundbreaking graduation from West Point. Altogether fitting.
But the purpose of tonight, I’m told, is not just to remember Henry Flipper and his extraordinary courage and accomplishment, but it’s held every year in the midst of African American History Month.
A week ago today, President Trump signed a proclamation honoring this occasion and declaring that “the history of African Americans exemplifies the resilience and the spirit that continue to make our Nation great.”
We need only look at Henry Flipper’s life to see this truth in this statement. But we should also look back to the generations of African Americans who have defended and died for this country as far back as the very hour of our nation’s birth.
When I think of these brave men and women, I can’t help but think of that famous painting, it’s known as Washington’s Crossing. It depicts George Washington and his band crossing the Delaware. If you look closely, if you haven’t looked at that painting, and it’s one of my favorites, you’ll see someone who is sometimes overlooked. Next to General Washington himself, immediately to his left, is a young African American soldier.
The symbolism is profound. The painting was rendered by a German abolitionist who was determined to recognize the countless African Americans who fought side by side with our Founders in the pursuit of a free America — of liberty and equality for all.
Men like Crispus Attucks, who perished in the Boston Massacre, or Lemuel Hayes, who fought at Lexington and Concord, or the dozens who enlisted in the First Rhode Island Regiment, just to name a few.
In New England, some African American patriots rose as high as the rank of colonel. Yet no matter their rank, they were, all of them, every bit as freedom-loving and dedicated to independence as George Washington himself.
Tonight I think of them — but, of course, not only them. I think of the nearly 200,000 African Americans who fought for the Union in the Civil War and for the new birth of freedom that followed it.
I think of the Buffalo Soldiers we learned tonight that Henry Flipper was among them who actually helped tame the West. I think of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew for freedom in World War Two — men like General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., whose strength of character carried him through four difficult years at West Point, and who is now honored for his resolve with a barracks that bears his name. I think of all these heroes in this month, and many more I haven’t mentioned, because they are the best of us.
And during this month, African American History Month, but not only this month, we remember them and we thank them for what they did. Their names and their sacrifices will never be forgotten. For they understood the promise of America — the timeless ideals that bind us together as a people, and give us purpose as a nation.
That’s why we are here tonight. We know in our hearts that America is extraordinary and that our sacred birthright must be defended, no matter the cost. This gift has always inspired our fellow Americans to step up and serve, and I believe it always will.
It certainly inspired Henry Flipper and all those that we reflect on tonight. He persevered not just through four years at West Point, but over injustice itself. We remember and honor him tonight for his unyielding tenacity in the face of hardship.
Henry’s life always be a model for those who find towering barriers standing before them waiting to be overcome. For 40 years now, the United States Corps of Cadets has chosen one of its own who has embodied Henry’s courage, his leadership, his determination to let no obstacle stand in his way. And tonight that honor falls to Cadet Lars Lofgren.
Cadet Lofgren personifies the legacy of Henry Flipper and all the other previous recipients of the Flipper award. As all of you know, two years ago, Cadet Lofgren was tragically injured during a training exercise at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Since that day, he has been paralyzed from the waist down. But he didn’t let it stop him. Less than 12 months later, he participated — I had to read this twice — he participated in the 2016 Warrior Games, where he won an astounding seven medals.
Not only that, he then returned to West Point to complete his final year — such is his love for America, for this great institution, and his sense of duty.
Cadet Lofgren, you are an inspiration to us all. You are truly a worthy recipient of the Henry Flipper Award. And I’m honored to be here tonight to be a part of watching you receive it. And tonight you will receive it from none other than one of Henry’s descendants, Ken Davis. And we thank him so much for being with us today.
I know everyone joins me in congratulating Cadet Lofgren and the honor he gives us by being here tonight.
The legacy of Henry Flipper lives on in many others, including two distinguished guests we have with us tonight.
Pat Locke, who retired from the Army as a major, is here with us this evening. She’s a trailblazer cut from the same cloth as Henry Flipper himself. In 1980, she departed from these grounds — stand up and take a bow. Would you please? (Applause.) Thank you, Major. In 1980, she departed from these grounds as the first-ever, female African American graduate of West Point.
We also have with us Cadet Christian Nattiel. He is the first African American from West Point to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and will soon head to Oxford to teach them a thing or two. (Applause.)
All those whom I have recognized are heirs of a long and proud tradition that stretches back into the mists of American history. But they are not the only ones. It is this same tradition that really brings all of us here tonight and together.
Now, we’ve not come to West Point, nor did our forefathers, because of the color of our skin or the creed we profess. We gather because of our country — a country that has given us so much, and to which we are now called to give in return.
One of my late father’s favorite versus was: To whom much is given, much will be required.
And I know that every one of you that has stepped forward to be a part of this incredible tradition to serve your country feels that in your heart. You cadets before me have answered that call. You’ve stepped up, and soon you will go forth.
Last night was Post Night, I’m told, when the graduating seniors learned where they will be stationed. You will, all of you, do our country proud, so that future generations may yet call themselves sons and daughters of America. Let’s give all of those who participated in Post Night a round of applause. (Applause.)
Your accomplishments here at West Point, your leadership speaks louder than anyone could at a dinner like tonight.
And your service is needed now more than ever. Beyond our nation’s borders lies a world riven by conflict and oftentimes wracked by chaos. Evil abounds across the globe. Old enemies have reared their ugly heads once more, and new ones have arisen, too.
The forces of radical Islam terrorism seek to destroy not only our people, but our very way of life. The barbarians known as ISIS are brutally killing anyone who stands in the way of their attempts to establish a global caliphate. They will not stop until we stop them. And we will stop them. (Applause.)
The threats facing America have never been more numerous, it seems sometimes, more sophisticated, more zealous in their adherence to failed ideas that belong in the ash-heap of history. But make no mistake about it: President Trump and this administration and this country will not rest until these enemies are destroyed and our nation is safe again.
And I promise you — I promise you, those of you that are preparing to enter the service of the United States of America on your graduation of West Point, we will not relent in our effort until we have rebuilt the arsenal of democracy and ensured that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard have the resources and the training they need to accomplish their mission, protect our families, and come home safe to theirs. That is our promise.
Rest assured, I can testify from what I see in him every day, America has a President and a Commander-in-Chief who loves the armed forces and will stand with you every day. I’ve seen his dedication to you more times than I can count. In fact, I see it literally on a daily basis.
Under his leadership, I can promise you three things. First, know that President Trump and I will always have your backs. You will have everything you need, and more, to defeat those who confront our nation and threaten our freedom, and to protect this country.
Secondly, know that you and your families in the days ahead will always have our prayers, and the prayers of the American people will go with you as you serve. Of this I’m confident.
And last, know that we will always support you, not second-guess you, and we will never call your courageous service or your sacrifice a failure.
Before I leave, I can’t help but recall the words that the General just shared with me. We took a stroll, didn’t we, General, down a block to see that MacArthur statue? And I polished his boot.
Before I left the Oval Office this afternoon, the President told me, you have to go down to the MacArthur statue. We did.
And I read those words that were I think first spoken in this very room, and they’re words that really represent the foundation of the past, present, and the future of this extraordinary institution and the tradition that you’ve embraced — duty, honor, country.
MacArthur said: “Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, and what you will be. They are your rallying points to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
Stirring words on a cold night, they warmed my heart because I knew I’d be looking out on a roomful of men and women who were living out that every single day.
You know to serve with President Trump is to serve with someone who has boundless confidence in the American people and boundless optimism about America’s future. And it’s an honor to be with you tonight.
But let me say what the President would say if he was here, that looking out at your shining faces, seeing your dedication to America, we’re more confident than ever that the best days for America are yet to come.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless West Point. And God bless the United States of America.