The Department of Veterans Affairs mourns the passing of its first Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Edward Joseph Derwinski, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and served America's Veterans from March 15, 1989 to September 26, 1992.
Secretary Derwinski was a World War II Army Veteran, who served in the Pacific theater of operations and in post-war Japan. A Soldier and a patriot, Ed Derwinski was an exuberant public servant, beloved by the citizens of the 4th Congressional District of Illinois, whom he served faithfully and with great distinction and compassion for 24 years as a member of House of Representatives.
When Ed departed the Congress, the tributes to his service flowed equally from both parties—testament to his character and his ability to meet others more than half way to achieve consensus on crucial policies. His larger view of what could be done when people work together for the common good is also what made Ed Derwinski so respected at the Department of State during his appointment as Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance in 1987, and as a Delegate to the United Nations. Ed Derwinski was key to America's role in the advent of freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe. A champion of the oppressed, his devotion to freedom and liberty was passionate.
Ed Derwinski brought to VA the simple life of a Veteran from the Midwest. Proud of his Polish heritage, he served as an emissary to events in Poland for President Bush. He was also a fun-loving, caring family man, who enjoyed Polish food, sing-alongs, and the Polka, often going out of his way to aid those in need. He brought the same passion to his appointment as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a new cabinet position. His was the duty to establish and reaffirm the Nation's commitment to the men and women who had safeguarded this Nation from its earliest beginnings.
When he was sworn in by President Bush on March 15, 1989, Ed said, "I consider the new Department to have a vital mission. In fact, it is so vital that there's only one place for the Veterans of America: in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America."
Secretary Derwinski made it clear from his first day in office that the newest Cabinet Department would be fully committed to caring for the Nation's Veterans. He honored and promoted General Omar Bradley's statement that "[we] are dealing with Veterans, not procedures: with their problems, not ours."
When Ed Derwinski took the reins of VA 23 years ago, there were 27 million Veterans—many of them World War II Veterans. VA's budget was about $29 billion dollars. Operation Desert Storm had not yet been fought, and today's first wars of the 21st century, in the wake of September 11, were nowhere on the horizon. But Ed Derwinski knew that VA had to be ready for any of the contingencies he knew would come. His tenure as Secretary was marked by the judicious preparation of the Department of Veterans Affairs for its new role as a federal department and for the future calls to action to which the citizens of this great country would respond.
The Department of Veterans Affairs joins Mrs. Bonita Derwinski and the other members of the Derwinski family in honoring the memory and the contributions of one of VA's visionaries in caring for the men and women who have safeguarded this Nation in peace and in war for over 236 years.