Many thanks for that very kind and gracious introduction and what a thrill it is for me to be here in this beautiful state. My ancestors go back to the early 1700s in South Carolina, were among the earliest settlers of this state, and they have fought in every war since then. As a former commanding officer of USS COWPENS
, the younger version, I might add and known affectionately as “The Thundering Herd” it is truly an honor to be here today in celebration of the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens.
When I was assigned to the Pentagon in 1991 and received orders to USS COWPENS, a brand new AEGIS guided missile cruiser, the Vice Admiral I worked for said, “Dallas, you’re going to a ship named after a place where the cows hang out. You better make sure those guys on that ship know how to fight because they are going to take a lot of heat from sailors on the waterfront.” Once I took command in the Persian Gulf, I realized what a wonderful and spectacular ship this was and those men were the finest the U.S. Navy had to offer. Nobody gave COWPENS sailors any guff because the men on other ships knew just how awesome the second Mighty Moo was.
That first night after I took command and we were underway in the Northern Persian Gulf riding shotgun for the aircraft carrier USS KITTY HAWK as she conducted air strikes into the United Nations mandated exclusion zone where Saddam Hussein was firing missiles at our aircraft, I went to my cabin around 2:30 in the morning, completely exhausted, and sat down in the dark bowing my head in thanks for this magnificent assignment. I was truly humbled having command of such a formidable ship and was so proud of everything I had seen that first day we were underway. During the next two years, that cruiser named after this battle went on to win two battle efficiency awards as the best ship in the cruiser-destroyer group and she won the coveted Spokane Trophy in 1994 as the finest and most battle ready surface warship in the Pacific Fleet.
The other thing I am truly thankful for today is being able to fit into this dress blue uniform again after being retired almost eight years. Whew! It wasn’t easy and thank goodness for crowbars and a very patient wife!
Today we honor a significant Revolutionary War battle. On this sacred ground at Hannah’s cowpens our Continental army forces and militia scored a significant victory against the British army which set the stage for their eventual surrender at Yorktown.
But the real honor today, for me, is to be here among the veterans of the first USS COWPENS – the real Mighty Moo – which fought so gallantly during every major World War Two pacific carrier battle between 1943 and 1945. A ship that earned 12 battle stars, more than any other light aircraft carrier during the war; a ship that was the first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in the South China sea; the first carrier in Tokyo Bay after the attack on Japan and just prior to the surrender; and it was COWPENS’ famous Torpedo Squadron 50 who were the first American forces to set foot on the Japanese mainland even before the Marines landed. This is a most impressive list of accomplishments by anyone’s standard.
I have a deep respect for those of you who fought so bravely during that war. My father survived the Battle of the Bulge as a first scout in Patton’s 87th Infantry Division and my uncle fought with the Army Rangers in hand-to-hand combat throughout the South Pacific. My father-in-law served aboard a destroyer which escorted USS COWPENS on several occasions in the Pacific and was deployed for three years. You are, indeed, the greatest generation and those of us who came behind you in the naval service have tried hard to live up to your tradition of honor, bravery and courage despite fighting in unpopular wars.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson is when Lord Cornwallis, the consummate aristocrat, is pinned against the coast at Yorktown, some nine months following defeat at the Battle of Cowpens which drove him north into Virginia. The French fleet is bombarding him from seaward and the Continental army is hammering him from landward. As he stands in total dejection looking out at the destruction in his battered headquarters, with the crumbling British army behind him, he says, “How could it come to this; an army of rabble; of peasants?”
But what Cornwallis learned and the rest of the world discovered when they watched the Revolutionary War from afar was that the citizens – the farmers, the mill workers, the shop owners, the people who lived off the land, also defended the land. These proud people of this new country demanded that they live free of tyranny – of oppressive foreign rule with no concern for the governed. This, indeed, became the birth of freedom and this sacred land we stand on today was where it was born: a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
As it was then, it is now – America’s greatest strength came from this ideal. From the South Carolina militia which fought so bravely under Dan Morgan at Cowpens, to the young Union and Confederate soldiers who fought so unselfishly in unknown and far away places like Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg and Petersburg, to the trenches of France during the “Great War” in Europe, to the young sailors who served with courage aboard the USS COWPENS in World War II, to the fierce battle at Chosin Reservoir during the Korean war, to the jungles of Vietnam, to the young people who serve aboard USS COWPENS today preparing once again to return to the Persian Gulf – these brave young people are the heart and soul of America. They are our sons and daughters, our grandsons and granddaughters, the boy and girl next door, our nephews and nieces. This is truly the life blood of America. These are the young citizens who chose to serve their country, not hide behind its bounty, criticize those of us who do, and serve no one but themselves.
Thirteen years ago, on January 17th and the 212th Anniversary of the battle, USS COWPENS launched 10 land attack TOMAHAWK cruise missiles into downtown Baghdad attacking a nuclear processing facility as Saddam Hussein pushed hard to develop a nuclear weapon. Some three years ago COWPENS fired the first salvo of TOMAHAWKS – the opening shots of the Iraq War and the beginning of a 200 missile barrage – during the attack on Baghdad to topple a brutal dictator and free a country of 27 million people from enslavement and total tyranny. You should be proud of what those young people aboard that ship are doing today because they are trying their best to uphold the tradition, the honor, the standard you set for them during your courageous journey in the Pacific War some 60 years ago. You were the victors and we honor your sacrifice and courage. You came home and made this country into what it is today.
I am humbled to be in front of you today. The tradition of this great battle lives and will continue to live on in the hearts and souls of those of us who have served and also in the hearts of those who will continue to serve under its name. The Battle of Cowpens; “A Devil of a Whipping” and a battle worth remembering.
May God bless all of you, this magnificent country of ours, and may the bell of freedom continue to ring throughout the world. This is why we fight.