Navy Secretary Webb Again Sworn In

May 2, 1987
by George C. Wilson, The Washington Post

Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. made a triumphant return to the Naval Academy today for a public, second swearing-in ceremony attended by members of his old Marine outfit who heard him decry “the political reverberations of the Vietnam war” that “dealt a vicious whiplash to those who sacrificed so much in the name of duty and country.”

“I once wrote,” Webb said as he stood in front of the Academy’s Bancroft Hall, where he lived from 1964 to 1968 as a midshipman, “that it was as if the very nation that called on us to bleed, slowly decided that we should be ashamed of our scars.”

Webb was wounded several times while a Marine officer in Vietnam, winning the Navy Cross, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

He paused during his speech to ask 23 comrades-in-arms from Vietnam to stand. “While the rest of the country debated the war or ignored it, these 23 men picked up 27 Purple Hearts in combat,” Webb said. “We owe them a lot more than our thanks, but I thank them today for their service.” The new Navy secretary lamented the decline of the military after the Vietnam war, citing the reduction in the Navy fleet from 1,000 to 479 ships as one example. He said sailors had to work overtime to fill the gap, staying at sea for seven months at a stretch, often without touching shore for five months.

“This nation will probably never fully comprehend the human cost of those days on our sailors and their families,” he said. “We cannot do this to our people again no matter how dedicated and no matter how uncomplaining they might be.”