Kind Words and a Presidential Hug for Departing Leon Panetta

President Barack Obama hugs Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta during the armed forces farewell tribute to honor him on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Feb. 8, 2013. Panetta is stepping down as the 23rd defense secretary. (Photo DOD)

Leon Panetta will soon be stepping down from his high post of Secretary of Defense.

Today, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Virginia, during an armed forces farewell ceremony, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the Secretary.

The President cited nearly 50 years of public service that began in the uniform of an Army lieutenant, and ended as Director of the CIA and, subsequently, as the 23rd Secretary of Defense.

Mentioning that Panetta kept alive and protected the dream his parents sought when they came to the United States from Italy, the President had many more kind words for the Secretary, reflecting the deep respect and affection he has for Panetta.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, President Barack Obama and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stand for the national anthem during the armed forces farewell tribute to honor the secretary. (Photo: DoD)

Here is some of what the President had to say, as eloquently described by John D. Banusiewicz of the American Forces Press Service:

During a farewell ceremony for Panetta at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall here, the president noted that Carmelo and Carmelina Panetta had no money and spoke little English when they passed through New York’s Ellis Island for a new life in California.

“They started a family and taught their sons that if they studied and worked, if they gave back to this country, that they, too, could share in America’s promise,” Obama said.

The president recalled luring Panetta away from the family walnut farm in Monterey, Calif., to return to public life as CIA director. “Your leadership of the CIA will forever be remembered for the blows that we struck against al- Qaida, and perhaps the greatest intelligence success in American history, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden,” Obama told the secretary.

After that, Obama said, Panetta had every right to expect he could return home.

“I’ll admit that when we first asked him to stay on and lead the Pentagon, his answer was simple: ‘No,’” the president said. “But I kept asking. I am persistent. That’s how Michelle married me. I just kept at it. And it is a testament to Leon’s patriotism, to his sense of duty, that he agreed to serve on this one last tour.

“And perhaps it was the memory during World War II of his parents opening up their homes to GIs headed for the Pacific,” he continued. “Perhaps it was because Leon served himself as a young lieutenant in the Army. Perhaps it was the experience of watching his youngest son deploy to Afghanistan. What we do know is this: as our nation’s 23rd secretary of defense, every action Leon Panetta has taken, every decision that he has made, has been with one goal in mind — taking care of our sons and our daughters in uniform and keeping America safe.”

Under Panetta’s watch, Obama said, the war in Iraq ended and the war in Afghanistan is winding down toward its end next year. “We’ve put the core of al-Qaida on the path to defeat,” he added, “and we’ve been relentless against its affiliates.”

Treatment for wounded warriors, support for military families and efforts to help veterans transition to civilian life all have improved during Panetta’s tenure, the president said, and his time in office has seen the final repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law and the opening of combat roles for women. He also praised the secretary for overseeing formation of a new national defense strategy.

“Because we forged a new defense strategy,” Obama said, “we’ll be better prepared for the future, better prepared to meet the threats that we face without larger military footprints, better prepared against cyberattacks, better prepared to advance our interests in the Asia-Pacific region, and after more than a decade of war, better prepared for the broadest range of contingencies.”

The president thanked Panetta’s wife for sharing her husband with the nation. “Sylvia, Leon’s service has also been your sacrifice,” he said, “and we promise this time he really is coming home.” Turning to the secretary, Obama thanked him for his service.

“Leon, from your first day in uniform until today, your dedicated service to America has spanned nearly 50 remarkable years,” he said. “And as you review these fine troops one last time, as you return home and walk your farm, know that the grand arc of your life speaks to our larger American story, for you can say with confidence and with pride that you’ve fulfilled the hopes that brought Carmelo and Carmelina Panetta to these shores all those years ago.

“You made them proud,” he continued. “You’ve helped keep alive the American dream, for not only your children and grandchildren, but for all of our children and grandchildren. And for that, we will be eternally grateful.”

On a personal note, thank you Mr. Secretary. You have not only made your parents proud, you have made America very proud.

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Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

  • Enkindle

    I read everything I find on Leon Panetta. In my opinion he is probably the most honorable man of our time. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sit and reminisce with him about his Congressional years, or, pose a question or two regarding the OMB?

    His father and Mother are named Carmelo and Carmelina and he lives in Carmel California in his walnut orchard. Just amazing the karma this guy has.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thank you, Enkindle

    I share your opinions about Panetta. And, wouldn’t you know, I’ll be posting soon some of Panetta’s reminiscences

  • SteveK

    I read everything I find on Leon Panetta. In my opinion he is probably the most honorable man of our time. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sit and reminisce with him about his Congressional years, or, pose a question or two regarding the OMB?

    I think you’re right.

    Prior to and during Mr. Panetta’s current stint with the government his vision of democracy has been the sole purpose of the The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, here’s a link to the last 10 years of lectures put on by The Panetta Institute.

    The Panetta Institute Lecture Series has always features topics of the day presented and debated by those in the know.

  • ordinarysparrow

    really good post…thanks Dorian…

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    OS and SteveK, thanks for your comments and, Steve, thanks for the link.

  • The_Ohioan

    Steve K

    That’s an impressive series of lectures! Thanks for pointing us to them. This is why I love the internet. Free information to peruse at our leisure. We have no excuse for being uninformed in today’s world.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Agree with you, T.O

    A true trove of papers and speeches by my favorite people (most of them).

    I need to go back again, however, because I do not think I saw any by the Institute’s namesake.

  • SteveK

    Yes, Leon Panetta is from all appearances a 21st century “Man for All Seasons*.”

    *From a quotation by Robert Whittington, a contemporary of Sir Thomas More, who in 1520 said:

    “More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.”