SAN DIEGO -- The ceremony could have been one of those routine government occasions. But Anthony J. Principi, a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, wanted a setting that reinforced the importance of the issue involved.
And so a ceremony to thank private-sector employers who responded to a hire-a-vet campaign took place on the aircraft carrier Independence in San Diego Bay, the West Coast home to the U.S. Navy.
In a tone heavy with emotion, Principi, then deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, told 400-plus persons on the deck of the mighty warship that the nation can never ignore its debt to its military veterans.
"Our history today is what it is because those young Americans kept faith with their country," Principi said that day in 1989. "It's now up to us to keep faith with them."
Principi left government at the end of the administration of President George Bush, but his concern for veterans did not end. Two years ago he served as chairman of a nonpartisan commission that found many veterans benefits and services outdated, ineffective or wasteful.
Now, Principi, 56, will have the chance to take the lead in implementing the 100-plus recommendations made by the commission.
On Friday, Principi was named by President-elect George W. Bush as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the $41 billion-a-year, 219,000-employee agency entrusted with providing medical care and other services to 27 million veterans.
Principi, who headed a veterans-for-Bush committee in California, comes with strong backing from veterans organizations and retired military brass, many of whom believe that the Department of Veterans Affairs has suffered under the Clinton administration.
"Tony is no shrinking violet -- he'll tell it like it is and do what's right with wisdom and forethought," said retired Marine Corps Gen. and Commandant Charles Krulak. Born in the Bronx borough of New York, Principi was a football star at a Catholic high school, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1967 and served in Vietnam as a commanding officer of a river-patrol force in the Mekong Delta, earning a Bronze Star with a "v" for valor and other decorations.
He graduated from Seton Hall University law school in 1975 and returned to active duty in the Navy in the Judge Advocate General corps. Transferred to Washington, he was legislative counsel for the Department of the Navy.
After leaving the Navy, he served in a variety of high-level Washington jobs, including staff director of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, staff director and chief counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee and deputy administrator for congressional and public affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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