America's wars - yesterday and tomorrow

Taken from a speech by the Vice-President of the United States to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pennsylvania

It's an honour to stand with so many who have served our country with great distinction - men and women who have risked everything to keep our country free.

It's an honour to stand with so many who have served our country with great distinction - men and women who have risked everything to keep our country free.

This morning, I was reminded just how high the price of freedom can be. I had the chance to meet with Ellen Blissenbach of Madison, Wisconsin. Ellen's husband, Joseph, served as a Sergeant First Class in the Second Division Infantry in the Korean war.

Fifty years ago - on Christmas Eve, when Ellen was pregnant with their first child - she received a telegram and learnt that Joseph was missing in action. The Army soon determined that he had been captured on the front lines in North Korea - and had died on a death march, never receiving a proper burial.

But it took Ellen more than four decades of searching and striving to learn that he had died from wounds of war.

This morning, I was proud to award Joseph Blissenbach the Purple Heart for his valour in Korea five decades ago. His courage in America's forgotten war is forgotten no more.

I don't pretend that my own military experience matches in any way what others here have been through.

When I enlisted, I became an army reporter in Vietnam. I didn't do the most or run the gravest danger.

But I was proud to wear my country's uniform. And my own experiences gave me strong beliefs about America's obligation to keep our national defences strong.

I've believed in a strong defence, and I've fought for it, for all my public service - not just in an election year, but every year. I served on the House Intelligence Committee, and on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As a Congressman, I took up the issue of nuclear arms control and nuclear weapons - because nothing is more fundamental than our national strength and security. As a senator, I supported the use of American forces to ensure freedom of the seas during the Iran-Iraq war.

I broke with my party and voted to support the Gulf war when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait - because I believed America's vital interests were at stake.

These past eight years, as a member of the National Security Council, I have worked to reverse the decline in defence spending - and I'm proud that we won the largest military pay increase in 20 years.

It's that year-after-year commitment to a strong American defence that makes me so concerned when others try to run down America's military for political advantage in an election year.

Our navy has more than twice as many surface ships as China, and more than three times as many as Russia. And our air force is by far the largest and most modern in the world.

And if anyone doubts our strength, let them talk to our pilots patrolling the skies over Iraq. Let them meet the sailors who have kept the peace in the Taiwan Strait. And let them remember our overwhelming victory in Kosovo - without a single American life lost in battle.

Our military is the strongest and the best in the entire world.

If you entrust me with the presidency, I pledge to keep it that way.

We cannot have the right defence policy in the 21st century without the right economic policy.

That is why I will not go along with a huge tax cut that primarily benefits the wealthiest at the expense of everyone else - which would wreck our good economy and make it impossible to modernise our armed forces and keep them ready for battle.

It is wrong to spend our budget surpluses on short-term gain - when we need to make sure the resources are there to keep our military strong far into the future.

I will make sure the resources are there. I will always fight for our men and women in uniform and I will never let you down. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.