CLIVE-One of the country’s foremost military heroes visited Iowa on Wednesday, and provided long-lasting memories for some folks he met. Retired General Tommy Franks took part in a ceremony celebrating a grant program established between William Penn University’s College for Working Adults and the American Legion. The funds will go toward helping veterans complete their college degrees.
Gen. Franks, who is a board member of William Penn University and a life member of the American Legion says this agreement is all about providing opportunity and solutions to problems and he came to Iowa to honor both groups.
“This marriage, this partnership between our university and the Legion, expands that,” General Franks said during the ceremony. “Makes it possible for our men and women who serve and have served to solve a problem for themselves, to reach toward an opportunity. And it’s a special thing.”
Tommy Franks earned six awards for Valor and three Purple Hearts during his service in Vietnam. His long and distinguished Army career took him to hot spots all over the world. Franks became a four-star general in 2000 and was named the commander-in-chief of United Central Command. After 9-11, he became the leader of the U.S. military efforts in the early months of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
General Franks’ long list of awards and accolades does not stop there: five Distinguished Service Medals, four Legions of Merit, four bronze stars, appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II and President George W. Bush awarded Franks the nation’s highest civilian honor, the President Medal of Freedom, in 2004.
Someone held in such high esteem around the world could be excused for behaving somewhat ostentatiously. That is not General Franks. In fact, he is the exact opposite of ostentatious. Franks’ easy demeanor and good-humored nature easily won over the attendees at the ceremony.
“What a hoot it is to be here,” Franks said with his Texas/Oklahoma drawl at the beginning of his speech, as the crowd chuckled.
The general kept his speech brief, by design. In fact, the introduction provided by Col. Bob King lasted longer than Franks’ entire dialogue. King read off the laundry list of Tommy Franks’ remarkable achievements, but the general took it all in stride.
“I sat there and listened to that introduction, Colonel, and it made me think of getting into politics,” he quipped, motioning to Iowa Senator Brad Zaun, who was in the audience. “After an intro like that, it’d be great to just stand up here and say, ‘Hi, I’m Tommy Franks and I approve that message.’”
The line was one of several that drew laughs from the audience. It was also the extent of the political discussion by the famous general. Instead, he focused on praising William Penn University, the American Legion, those assembled who made the partnership possible, and our brave men and women serving in the military.
“I had a chance to go back to school and I did that because I was given the opportunity to do that,” Gen. Franks said. “And it’s not a small thing that the Legion is expanding the opportunity for our young people to do the same thing that I did. Ain’t America a great country. It is a special place that comes complete with an opportunity to literally be all you are man enough, or woman enough, to be.”
The speech was just a preview for those in attendance. A reception was held after the ceremony. General Franks took the time to visit with everyone in the room. He posed for pictures, signed autographs, told jokes and thanked veterans for their service.
General Franks also honored one very special request. An attendee asked if he would speak briefly on the phone to her brother, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now dealing post-tramautic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The brother just surpassed the one year mark of sobriety from pain medication and now leads a PTSD support group. The retired general gladly obliged with the request.
After reaching her brother on the phone, she handed it to General Franks. He introduced himself, thanked the brother for his service, told him he is loved and appreciated, wished him all the best and told him to keep up the good work.
This was not something done in front of a big group of people to gain positive attention. It was done privately, with just a few people standing by and within earshot. It was a moving moment that reduced the sister to tears, and almost did the same to some nearby males. A great gesture made by a great man.
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