Floor and Committee Statements

   “Yesterday was a difficult day for me. I am 74 years old. I was born in 1944. Like many Americans, my youth was during the Vietnam era. The prime of my youth was the Vietnam era.

   “In fact, my senior year in college, I got a graduation diploma and a draft notice on the same day. They were put in the same book. Everybody was going. Everybody was being called up for the draft. There was a lottery, but so many people were eligible that almost everybody in my age group would have been drafted if they didn’t join the service.

   “I joined. I joined the National Guard, which I am very proud of, and I am still a guardsman to this day. It also gave me the chance to serve my country in a way that would not put me at as much risk to go to Vietnam as it would if I were drafted. I consciously did that because I wanted to do everything I could to stay here and get married a few months later to my wife Dianne. I was of the age to be drafted, and I made the decision to find a way to serve that would not put me in a position of being drafted, where I lost control. I was able to do it, and a lot of people were, but a lot of people weren’t. I know that. The ones who could know it, and the ones who couldn’t know it. The Presiding Officer knows what I am talking about, being a guardswoman herself.

   “I lost my best friend in Vietnam, Jackson Elliott Cox III, Waynesboro, Ga., Burke County--Bird Dog Capital of the World.

   “Jack and I graduated from college together. Jack went off for a weekend and came back and told us all he had joined the Marine Corps, was going to OCS, and was going to go to Vietnam and fight the bad guys. We all said: ‘Jack, don’t volunteer to do that. You could get killed.’

   “He said: ‘No, I want to do it. It is a great country. I have had a great life, going to the University of Georgia, have a wonderful mom and dad, good friends like you all. I want to go to OCS and be an officer in the Marine Corps’--and he did.

  “A few years later, he was shot by a sniper in the 11th month of a 13-month stint in Vietnam. Alex Crumbley, the superior court judge in Georgia years later; Pierre Howard, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Georgia; and myself--we were the three best friends, the ‘Four Amigos,’ if you will. We went to 589 Liberty Street in Waynesboro and spent three nights and four days with Emily and Jack, Jack’s dad and mom.

   “When the Marine Corps brought the body back, it was lying in state in their dining room, and we had a wake and a service for him. We stood guard. We cried. We talked about the good times. We talked about the bad times. We felt sorry for ourselves because the life that had meant so much to all of us was gone.

   “Jack felt a calling for the country, and he did a great service for the country. I am proud of him, and I am proud to have been his friend.

   “I tried to do what I could but never in the category of a John McCain or a Jack Cox. There were a lot people my age who didn’t do as much as they probably could have or might have done, and probably from time to time have second thoughts about it, too, because the Vietnam war was so tough.

   “I had friends coming back who had to dress in blue jeans and khakis when they got off the troop train from wherever they were in Atlanta because people would get accosted on the street if they were in their uniform during that era.

   “Today, we go to the airport, and if we have troops coming through who are going to fly back for duty somewhere, they will get standing ovations, and people will give up their seats to let them sit there. It wasn’t like that in the 1960s and 1970s. It wasn’t like that at all.

   “In fact, people were risking their lives--58,000 did give their lives for all of us--and in many cases, we were making fun of them as a nation. It was terrible. It messed up our politics, messed up our country, messed up our people, and messed up everybody else. But America is a great country. What I am telling you is tragic to me, and I apologize to everybody that I didn’t do everything I should have done, but I think all of us owe each other a commitment to say that we are never going to let America get that way again.

   “Americans should always be as we were on 9/11 or 9/12 of 2001, when we all put American flags on our cars, we all sang the national anthem, and we said the Pledge of Allegiance after we were attacked. For a few months, we were the most patriotic nation in the world. We ought to be that way every single day because every single day, just like those firemen and emergency medical people of 9/11, there are those who were in the Vietnam war, who signed up, who fought, risked their lives, and in some cases died, like John McCain and like my brother-in-law Rocky Davidson, my wife’s brother, who flew Navy A-4 reconnaissance planes in Vietnam--one of the most decorated pilots in the Navy during that era. People like him were great. My father-in-law flew reconnaissance in World War II in the Pacific. He did everything he could to help the country during difficult times. There were so many people who did that for our country, and we owe all of them a debt of gratitude and a debt of thanks.

   “We need to remember that we are all Americans. To those who saved us as a country, kept our freedom when we were about to lose it, fought for us, risked their lives, and died for us, we owe it to them, at times like this, to elevate them to the appropriate place in history. That is what I am trying to do with John McCain today.

   “I want to elevate John. John was better than I am, and I know it. John was the best of my generation. John McCain was and is a great human being.

   “I don’t know what is going to be said in the next few days about John McCain by whomever is going to say it or what is going to be done, but anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping because most of those who would do the wrong thing about John McCain didn’t have the guts to do the right thing when it was their turn. We need to remember that.

   “So I would say to the President or anybody in the world, it is time to pause and say that this was a great man who gave everything for us. We owe him nothing less than the respect that he earned, and that is what I intend to give John in return for what he gave me.

   “John took me to Kosovo 20 years ago when President Clinton said that we were going to send some people over there to verify the crime sites, the ethnic cleansing. I went to Pristina with John. I went to Montenegro. I went to the World Security Conference in Munich a few years after that and got to sit with Vladimir Putin. I saw John McCain talk to Vladimir Putin as if they were next-door neighbors but also as if they were Dutch uncles. I was so proud to be from a country that had a guy like John McCain, who could break the ice with the toughest of our adversaries, speak up with pride for America, and calm them down when they needed to be calmed down.

   “Yet John and I had some problems too. Mitch McConnell did me the worst favor of my lifetime when he made me the chairman of the Ethics Committee. That is a hard job, and nobody likes the person who chairs that committee because they are scared of them. But I got the Ethics Committee job at a time when John McCain was still on the special committee for the Ethics Committee to decide what to do on using airplanes during campaign events as candidates or for our PACs. John had access to a plane, which gave him an exemption from the rules that we passed. It made it tough as heck because he didn’t have to worry about the cause and effects. But John took a second to understand the problems that a normal legislator, who might not have had access to a private plane, might have had. In the end, he took his circumstances and his ability to have a private plane and applied them to the changes that were made to be sure that everybody was being treated fairly. John didn’t just expect things to be good for John; he expected things to be good for everybody. He always did that, and I always learned a lot from him.

   “The other thing I learned was how to cuss. Let me tell you, John McCain could do a lot of things, but cussing was one of the best things he ever did. He was a consummate cusser, and he knew how to do it to have emphasis added. That is what the papers always say when they put the pound marks and things like that after some statements Jim Inhofe makes or I make.

   “John and I were working on legislation. I am chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He was chairman of the Armed Services Committee. We had a huge veterans bill that we had to come together and have a meeting of the minds on in terms of healthcare. John was late for the meeting. He came into the meeting. He pulled the door behind him and slammed it. For 10 minutes he laid the best cussing on me and everybody else in the room that I had ever heard.

   “He said: ‘I haven’t got time to put up with this anymore. Y’all just listen to what I have to say and tell me what you are going to do.’

   “That is a tough way to convene business, but John sometimes knew how to get us all to think, to get us all to talk. He would intimidate you enough so you would have to fight him for what you believe in, and you would get a better piece of legislation than if he just let it pass or if he had intimidated you to death. John knew exactly what he had the capability of doing, and he knew exactly when to apply the intimidation--and the thanks and the grace. He did it at the right time every single time. Did we agree all the time? No, but I know I am a better person, our country is a better country, and the world is a better place because of John McCain.

   “In the next 3 or 4 days, as we go through and run into kids we know or relatives or my own children, whom I will be with this coming Sunday in the mountains, we are going to have a little meeting about John McCain just to make sure they know what I know and so I know that they know about a great American hero because I want them, when they have kids in their 40s--my kids are in their 40s today--to remember on Veterans Day, on Memorial Day, and on all other days, the John McCains of the world and those who will come after John, who will put their life and future and fortune on the line for the greatest country in the world, the United States of America.

   “I yield the floor.”