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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 12, 2003

Shinseki honored as humble, loyal army chief

 •  From Kaua'i boy to the Army's top command

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Washington Bureau

FORT MYER, Va. — Eric K. Shinseki, a boy from Kaua'i who grew up to serve as the top-ranking military officer in the U.S. Army, retired here yesterday with a full honor review.

Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki presented his wife, Patricia, with a bouquet of roses at his retirement ceremony yesterday in Arlington, Va.

Associated Press

The four-star general laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and was feted by the U.S. Army Band, a 19-gun salute and the 3rd Infantry, known as the Old Guard. Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee presented Shinseki, 60, with the Distinguished Service Medal.

With characteristic humility, Shinseki, the first Asian American to earn four stars, devoted most of his remarks to praising his wife, Patricia, and his family, friends and comrades for their own guidance and sacrifices during his 38-year military career.

"My name is Shinseki," he said simply, "and I am a soldier."

Looking out at the young men in uniform arrayed on Summerall Field, Shinseki said his life in the Army had come full circle, as a soldier badly wounded in Vietnam to the Army chief of staff who helped prepare others to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"With deeds, not words, they have unequivocally answered the question, 'Can you fight?' " he said. "They did not flinch. They do not waver. Our Army fights and wins."

Associated Press

Above, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki addressed the Armor Conference in Fort Knox, Ky. in May. Below, Shinseki as a West Point cadet in 1964.

Advertiser library photo
Brownlee, the only other person to speak at the ceremony, described Shinseki as genuinely humble and modest about his accomplishments. "He is that quiet warrior, reluctant to speak of himself, always deflecting the spotlight to those around him, and most importantly, to the soldiers he has served so well and so faithfully," he said.

Shinseki's tenure as chief of staff has occurred during a tumultuous time in the nation's, and the military's, history. Taking office during the Clinton administration in June 1999, Shinseki has helped lead the military as it responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the war with Iraq.

He has been instrumental in planning for the Army's eventual transformation into a more flexible fighting force. He has been a relentless promoter of six new Stryker combat brigades — centered on eight-wheeled armored vehicles — that could serve as the bridge between the existing and future force. One of the brigades is planned for Hawai'i.

But Shinseki has at times been at odds with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Department of Defense, most notably over the elimination of the Crusader artillery program and the Army's force structure. Just before the war with Iraq, Shinseki told Congress that the United States would need hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq after the war, an estimate immediately downplayed by defense officials. More recently, defense officials have conceded that they may not have adequately considered the level of unrest in Iraq after the war and have acknowledged that a sizeable U.S. force will be necessary in the country for some time.

Rumsfeld was in Europe yesterday, and Shinseki did not mention the defense secretary during his speech. Shinseki instead praised former Army Secretary Thomas White, whom Rumsfeld fired in April, and said that suggestions that the Army does not understand the importance of civilian control of the military are not helpful. "So to muddy the waters when important issues are at stake, issues of life and death, is a disservice to all of those in and out of uniform who serve and lead so well," he said.

Born of Japanese ancestry on Kaua'i during World War II, Shinseki went to Kaua'i High School and was nominated to West Point by Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i. Shinseki had two combat tours in the 9th and 25th Infantry Divisions in Vietnam and lost part of his right foot from battle injuries.

Shinseki was 27 when he was hospitalized at Tripler Army Medical Center for a second time for battle wounds suffered in Vietnam. Part of his right foot was amputated.

Advertiser library photo • July 4, 1970

He has a Master of Arts degree in English literature from Duke University, and taught in the English department at the U.S. Military Academy. He also served as the commander of Army forces in Europe and of NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Yesterday, before military brass, political dignitaries and about 70 members of his family, he took special care to thank his wife, who he said moved 31 times during his career, with a bouquet of yellow roses and a hug and kiss.

"You taught me the meaning of selflessness, of elegance, of courage and of a bright spirit undiminished by time or adversity," he said. "You have seen me at my worst and stuck with me — and you've seen me at my best and chuckled in disbelief."

Inouye, who, along with Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, attended the ceremony, said he thought Shinseki would make a great soldier when he nominated him to West Point.

"I think he will go down in history as one of the best," Inouye said. "I think he's led us in the right direction."

Akaka said he was impressed by how Shinseki chose to use his speech to recognize others. "That's the aloha spirit," he said.

Abercrombie likened Shinseki's leadership to esteemed generals of the past such as Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall. "All Hawai'i is proud that one of our Island sons has acquitted himself so well," the congressman said.

• • •

From Kaua'i boy to the Army's top command

• Class of 1960

Graduates from Kaua'i High School after growing up in Lihu'e.

• Begins career

Graduates from West Point in 1965. Earns Master of Arts in English literature from Duke University.

• Vietnam service

Earns two Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars in two tours of service in Vietnam.

• Rises in rank

Promoted to general in 1997; named commander of U.S. Army in Europe.

• Chief of staff

Becomes Army's 34th Chief of Staff in 1999 and first Asian American to hold post.