WASHINGTON — This morning, before packed audience in the Sydney Yates auditorium at the U. S. Department of the Interior building, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” into law.
Vice President Joe Biden opened the ceremony saying, “Good morning folks — It’s a great Day.” The Vice-President went on to praise the fact that now “brave gay and lesbian” soldiers will be now be able to “openly defend this country around the globe.”
Echoing the words used in the congressional testimony of Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Biden called it both militarily and politically the right thing to do. He then acknowledge the Admiral who was greeted with enthusiastic applause by the audience.
As Biden introduced the President, with whom he praised as providing the leadership to get the job done in removing the policy, the audience erupted into chanting of “Yes We Can” and shouts of “Thank You Mr. President” as Obama stepped onto the stage.
Acknowledging the applause, Obama repeated, “It’s a good day.”
The President, in the beginning of his remarks, mentioned in historical reference of a day 66 years ago today — the Battle of The Bulge — specifically the 80th infantry division of Patton’s U. S. 3rd Army.
Obama spoke of one unit of the 80th which came under fire, exposing and making hundreds of soldiers vulnerable, and a member of that unit, Private Lloyd Corwin, who tumbled down into an icy ravine during the firefight. The president said that one soldier, Andy Lee, turned back — a friend who turned back during the chaos and risked his own life to save Corwin.
Corwin gave Lee full credit for saving him, and it was 40 years later, upon their being reunited for the first time, that he learned that Lee was gay. Lloyd said that he didn’t much care, he only knew what mattered was that Lee had saved his life.
“Lloyd’s son is in the audience” the President acknowledged as he mentioned that it was personal characteristics of bravery, integrity and willing to fight to preserve freedom, and not sexual orientation that mattered.
Obama told the audience, “I am proud to sign a law that will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ It is a law that will strengthen our National Security. No longer will the United States be forced to lose skills and talents of thousands of people who would have to leave because they are gay.”
He then also acknowledged Admiral Mullen’s words: “Our people sacrifice a lot for our country they should not have to sacrifice their integrity, this is the right thing to do for our military, its the right thing to do for our country,” Obama said.
The President then thanked the Congressional delegation in attendance standing on the stage behind him, praising House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev.) for their leadership.
He then thanked Senators Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn), Susan Collins, (R-Maine), and the Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, (D-Mich.), whom he noted was still working and not present.
Then Obama made note of Representative Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), who had led the initiative in the U. S. House to pass the measure as a stand alone bill which was then passed by the Senate. The audience erupted again in cheers and applause for the Congressman.
Obama also singled out efforts by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well as Admiral Mullen and praised the willingness of the five service chiefs to swiftly implement the policy. He acknowledged the work and efforts of the Pentagon’s study group, particularly its authors, without which the President said that repeal could not have been effected.
As Obama gave credit and appreciation to the veterans and active duty personnel in the room, thanking them for service, he also thanked those discharged under the policy and thanked the hard work of the LGBTQ activists present.
But the President cautioned that the law was still in effect until he the Defense Secretary, and Congress had certified that the implementation could be effected, but reiterated that the administration would not drag its feet to get the job done.
Obama then mentioned that there would be apprehension, but he said that as Commander In Chief, there are ways to implement the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal without much difficulty, saying he had confidence in the members of the armed forces in their ability to change and work within the implementation of the repeal.
He cited what he called his favorite quote from the Pentagon study whereby a participant of the study in Afghanistan on combat duty said:
“We have a gay guy in our unit, he’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys and no one cares that he’s gay,” which brought laughter and loud applause from the audience.
As Obama addressed the gays and lesbians soldiers currently serving, he talked about isolation, lies being lived, denial of freedoms, acknowledging the sacrifices made, and said there would never be a full accounting of the contributions made by gay and lesbian service members.
He went on to talk about gay service members that had fought in the Revolutionary War, at Gettysburg, at the front in the first world war, and spoke about those who now were at rest in Arlington National Cemetery, and that their sacrifices contributed to freedoms and liberties shared by all.
They will stand as role models for those who come, he said.
Obama made specific mention of openly gay retired U. S. Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the first American wounded in the Iraq war, who valiantly served, followed by U.S. Army Captain John Hopkins, who earned a bronze star in Iraq and who received emails from his troops who said they knew he was gay and didn’t care after his discharge because of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
The President then invited those veterans discharged under the policy who wanted to serve, to re-enlist, and added that all who want to serve into the ranks of the U. S. military are welcome.
Obama concluded by telling the audience, “We are no longer a nation that says ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ we are a nation that says ‘Out of many, we are one’ … and it’s now my honor to sign this bill.'”
The President then sat and signed the bill to raucous applause and cheering from the audience, who chanted “USA – USA.”