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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

“I’ll Take Point” Award Presentation
Washington, DC
September 14, 2021

Jake Tapper, thanks for that kind introduction and for your enduring commitment to our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. As we work through reaction to stories and images from Afghanistan, I’ve thought of you often, Jake, as much as anyone. You are the chronicler of the heroism of active duty servicemen and women and Veterans in Afghanistan.

Tonight, we honor the legacy of a different generation of heroes—the Greatest Generation, defenders of freedom and democracy for the whole of nations. And we remember the enormous cost of the freedom we enjoy today, born of their sacrifices.

Tonight, it’s my privilege to present the “I’ll Take Point” Award, an award that points back to a single moment when one brave young man had the enormous courage to expose himself to mortal danger to save another.

That man was Second Lieutenant Bob Dole, who left the cover of his foxhole to save his grievously wounded radio man and, in so doing, was grievously wounded himself.

That one moment reflected the sacrifice in defense of freedom—your freedom, my freedom—that unfolded across Europe and the Pacific in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

That one moment epitomized that high, precious ideal of serving, of giving everything one has to a noble cause greater than oneself—especially in our darkest hours.

That moment, that service, is what the “I’ll Take Point” award is all about. It honors a public servant who animates that principle of service to a cause greater than self. It honors one who has the courage to put the needs of our nation before self, before politics, before everything else--someone who would give anything for everything we hold dear.

No public servant better exemplifies those traits than the late Senator John Warner.

Over a span of six decades, Senator Warner took point and left an indelible mark on our nation through his service in uniform, in the Pentagon, and in Congress. And his historic achievements and extraordinary work impacted every conflict since World War II.

During World War II, he served as a 17-year old 3rd Class Petty Officer in the Navy.

During the Korean War, he served as a Captain in the Marine Corps. During the Vietnam War, he served in the Pentagon as both the Undersecretary and Secretary of the Navy.

And while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged, he served on Capitol Hill—not only as the longest serving senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but also as a universally respected and admired Chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

He understood, better than most, that it takes courage and character to create a better world.

You know, I had the great opportunity to work for the Senate Majority Leader on national security matters when he was the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I was always struck that staff who worked for Chairman Warner took great pride in being “Warner people,” and wanted to be identified as such.

It quickly became apparent why: They wanted to be associated with this very dapper, even debonair, leader to be sure, but more than that, they wanted to be associated with how he served, how he thought, and how he worked on behalf of the country.

Always guided by the national interest and Virginia’s interest. Always transparent and forthright. And never about his own interests.

How could you not want to be a Warner person, given how he put the country, its ideal, and its people first?

John Warner once said, “We must remember that we are more alike than different, that how we act toward one another is as important as anything else we aspire to do.”

Words to live by. His words were inspiring then. They are even more inspiring now.

So, when I think about Senator Warner, I don’t think of him as a Republican or a Democrat. I think of him as an exceptionally balanced, charismatic leader who brought us together and put the needs of our nation before politics or party to make our military better, our Congress better, and our world better. I think of him as one of the few giants of Washington who never forgot us little guys working for him.

I think of him as the very best this nation has to offer.

So, as we remember Senator Warner, let us all be just a bit more like him. Let’s all be Warner people. Let us bridge the divides that might tear us apart. Let us unite, as Americans. And let us fight for the ideals that Senator Warner dedicated his life to supporting and defending. 

Without further ado, I am pleased to assist the World War II Foundation in presenting the Senator Bob Dole Leadership Award to the late Senator John Warner.

Please, join me in welcoming The Foundation's President and Founder, Tim Gray; CEO, Major General Drew Davis; and Chairman, Paul Clifford to present the award to Senator Warner's wife, Mrs. Jeanne Warner.

Jeanne, I’m honored to present this award to you and to offer my deepest condolences for your loss. Our nation, and our Veterans, are forever in your and your husband’s debt. 

May God bless the members of the Greatest Generation, may he bless our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors, and may we always give them our very best.