Remarks by Ambassador David H. Wilkins United Way Kick-Off September 2, 2009
Remarks by Ambassador David H. Wilkins
United Way Kick-Off
September 2, 2009
SPECIAL TO SCHOTLINE
The following are excerpted remarks delivered by Ambassador David H. Wilkins on Wednesday, September 2, 2009 before a crowd of 1,400 at the Carolina First Center in honor of the kick-off for this year’s Greenville County United Way Campaign.
America is and has long been the most charitable nation on earth. Where there are calamities, natural disasters, disease – you’ll find Americans donating our time, treasure, talent and technology.
Now I realize it’s become somewhat fashionable perhaps in the last few years to criticize the United States.
And that’s fair enough — freedom of speech after all is a core American value.
But in just over a week’s time, we’ll mark a momentous date in the history of the United States: eight years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
As President Bush told a stunned and grieving nation that evening, “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”
And now, eight years later, though many have tried to extinguish it, liberty’s light still shines ever bright.
And for that reason this afternoon, I would like to share with you what I learned about the blessings of liberty and our great country in this post 9-11 world through my eyes as a grateful diplomat serving the United States in Canada.
Time is a benevolent healer, I think.
It’s allowed us to mostly mend from the deep scars born from the single deadliest attack ever incurred by our nation.
In the hazy and confusing days, weeks, and months following 9-11 we deeply mourned all that had been stolen from us.
But we likewise embraced what it is that makes us Americans.
We stopped taking for granted our heroes — firefighters and police officers and rescue workers who run into burning buildings while we’re running out of them.
We were inspired by the passengers aboard Flight 93 who crashed their United jet into the ground in Pennsylvania rather than allowing it to reach its intended target in Washington.
In some ways, it seems a lifetime ago we first heard their stories.
Shortly after 10 that morning, Tom Burnet called home one last time and told his wife, “We can’t wait for the authorities. We have to do something now.”
And as Todd Beamer prayed the 23rd psalm he spoke the words that would capture the imagination of a grateful nation, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”
As the New York Post wrote at the time, “Absent the bravery of those passengers…the U.S. Capitol or White House might have been set to flames…”
It’s easy to see now that the terrorists thought the heat of their hatred would melt our country’s resolve. But freedom’s great enemies continue to underestimate the strength of freedom’s foundation. It is the rock upon which the United States was built — its layers accumulated over the centuries by people of unwavering faith in the God of their fathers, by their courage and conviction…
I tried as best I could two Christmastimes ago, to say thanks to our men and women in uniform.
I had the opportunity to go to Kandahar, Afghanistan to visit with Canadian and U.S. troops stationed at a forward operating base there.
I remember it felt like landing on the moon – it was so dusty and the conditions so stark.
Those troops had little to celebrate that Christmas, half a world away from those they loved, on guard for Taliban attacks, when I stopped by their outposts to thank them.
And yet they had everything.
And the most amazing thing was – to a man – every single one of them thanked me for my service – for giving up my Christmas.
It was a lesson in humility I will never forget.
Those young troops were wise beyond their years: content in a way I’d not seen people blessed with every luxury, confident in their mission, their role in history, and the importance of their work.
That Christmas I met warriors with servants’ hearts.
And it struck me then that the best amongst us have always had hearts dedicated to service. For it takes a special person to voluntarily answer freedom’s call. And it takes selfless people to commit to their community in the way each of you has…
I’ve heard it said, “It is not what you take up, but what you give up, that makes you rich.” By that account, I’m privileged to stand before great wealth this afternoon.
And on behalf of our very grateful community: Thanks to each of you for your service.
And I want you to know that what you’re doing here reaches far beyond the gates of Greenville. You are part of that foundation of freedom I mentioned earlier. Each of you adding a layer to America’s greatness.
The children you’re inspiring today are tomorrow’s scientists and doctors and diplomats. They will protect and honor America’s legacy because you’ve helped show them they’re part of America’s promise and have an equal turn at her great dream…
Right now with America in economic crisis and with all of us examining very weighty policy decisions that will enact sweeping changes, we cannot afford to take any of our freedoms for granted…
But I submit to you we should never take our goodness for granted either. There is a reason we have long been freedom’s greatest friend. And it is not because we are arrogant as some around the world might suggest. It is because for so long we have been blessed with Americans who have been willing to sacrifice in freedom’s name.
And if my service with the U.S. State Department has convicted me of anything it’s that our country MUST show the way.
In these troubled times it’s as important as ever that our country listen to our friends and neighbors around the world. But it’s most important for the United States to lead.
Whether it’s on the economy or combating terrorism we must continue to stand as a beacon among the nations.
“Where liberty dwells, there is my country,” one of America’s first and most distinguished diplomats, Benjamin Franklin, once said.
May God forever shed His grace on thee.