Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic Renaming Ceremony
In Memory of Master Sergeant Max J. Beilke
September 11, 2010
Good afternoon, everyone.
Senator Amy Klobuchar and her staff have done so much to bring us all together—to her; to Senator Al Franken, who co-sponsored the bill; to Congressman Collin Peterson—let me express my thanks for this very special and much deserved recognition for Max Beilke.
Equally important, I am most appreciative of their vigorous and unwavering support for our Veterans and the issues confronting them. It was clear to me, when I arrived 20 months ago, that, in 2008 and 2009, Congress had concerns about the adequacy of VA’s budget—and they fixed them, by enhancing those budgets.
Well, I inherited the 2009 congressionally-enhanced budget. It was a Godsend that allowed me to lay a foundation for President Obama’s 2010 VA budget—his first, and the largest increase in 30 years. We are all keeping faith with President Lincoln’s charge in 1865 to care for those who have borne the battle.
General Shellito, it’s great to see you again, and congratulations on your upcoming retirement from the Army, after 37 years of serving the Soldiers and families of the Minnesota National Guard. You will be long remembered and much missed. Thank you for your leadership.
Mayor Ness [Mayor of Alexandria, MN], other state and local officials from the great state of Minnesota;
Representatives from some of our Veterans service organizations;
Most importantly, Max’s friends and family:
- Lisa, his wife;
- His daughter, Susie Hess;
- His sisters, Doris Brunelle and Carol Wachter;
- Max’s cousin, Ray Beilke;
- Laura Paul, a former co-worker;
- And all the others, who have come to honor Max, including so many members of his high school class.
Distinguished guests, fellow Veterans, ladies and gentlemen:
In signing the 2010 caregivers and Veterans health services act on 5 May, President Obama made today’s ceremony possible—the renaming of the Alexandria clinic in honor of one of Minnesota’s very finest citizens—Max J. Beilke.
Nine years ago this morning, Max Beilke lost his life, when terrorists plunged American Airlines flight 77 into the Pentagon, where he had been meeting with senior military leaders. In one terrible instant, the Army lost its staunchest supporter and most vigorous proponent for Veterans and retiree benefits. 183 other Americans were lost and dozens seriously injured.
Max Beilke was a Veteran of two wars: first Korea, and then Vietnam. Two difficult and demanding wars, where the risks were high and the losses, higher still. Soldiers are no strangers to risk or the dangers associated with combat. But none of us expects to confront the rage of war in our hometowns and communities.
September 11, 2001, dawned beautifully, under a clear blue sky. Max was doing work he loved, in a place he knew by heart, for people who loved him as the outstanding deputy chief of Army retiree services that he had been for 17 years. The once and forever advocate for retirees and Veterans, he was amongst colleagues and friends, who respected him and his unyielding commitment to the people entrusted to his care. In a flash, we lost the gift that was Max Beilke. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on 11 December 2001.
Max Beilke was a big man, around 6’5”, with a trademark shock of white hair. He tended to fill the rooms he entered without dominating them. Everyone I have encountered, who knew him and worked with him closely, recalls Max with great reverence, respect, and admiration.
His newsletters, updating the Army’s vast and widespread retiree community about important developments, changes to their benefits, and Army happenings, in general, made Max an early pioneer of what has become, today, the new social media. His earliest column, called, “thoughts while eating a sandwich,” evolved into a first-generation AOL chat room. He called that chat room “Max Facts,” and many a retiree on a government pension clung to Max’s pronouncements in order to stretch resources and make ends meet. Max was committed to the Army, and to the men and women who filled its ranks. They are the Army, and he understood that better than most—deep in the gut, where it counted.
So, today, in bestowing Max Beilke’s name on this outpatient clinic, we re-affirm both the magnificence of his mission and the nobility of this one. His was a service to something larger than self. The service of this clinic, like Max’s, is a crusade devoted to the well-being of others.
Just a year after it first opened its doors, this wonderful Alexandria clinic serves Veterans with the same enthusiasm, dedication, and love that Max displayed each day for the Army and its retirees.
This Max J. Beilke outpatient clinic, and the 772 others like it, VA’s 153 Medical Centers, 260 Vet Centers, and 50 mobile clinics—all linked by the most modern telehealth technology network—reach deep into rural America, to places like Alexandria, to keep Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have borne the battle.
In 1775, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, even before we were a republic, General George Washington observed, “When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.” He recognized that Americans in uniform are, first and foremost, citizens. And after their service, when the uniforms come off, they return to life as civilians and Veterans. We owe them all a debt of gratitude, indeed a debt of honor, for laying aside their comforts to go in harm’s way for the Nation.
Max Beilke was such an American. Like so many Minnesotans, he did not think twice about serving his country in time of war. Today, the Max j. Beilke Community-Based Outpatient Clinic stands as testimony of our Nation’s gratitude to her Veterans. This facility will provide Minnesota’s Veterans a broad range of care and services—from primary care to mental health counseling, and laboratory, pharmacy, and nutrition services, with referrals to Saint Cloud and Minneapolis VA Medical Centers for the specialty care not available here. The Beilke clinic is our pledge to Veterans that we have not forgotten their service and we will never forget their sacrifice on behalf of the Nation.
Ours is a sacred responsibility to keep our Nation’s promise to the Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as we cared for the generations of Veterans who preceded them. This is our mission, and in this we will not falter, we will not fail.
May God bless Max Beilke’s family, friends, and community; may God bless our troops as they stand watch on the frontiers of freedom; and may God continue to bless our wonderful country.