I first came to VA’s central office 22 years ago to interview for an opening in the public affairs office. I was tense and nervous, as it was yet another of many interviews in a five-month-long job search.
Then, as if it was meant to happen, as I walked in front of VA headquarters, President Lincoln gave me the boost I needed.
Right there on the front of the building at eye level was our 16th president’s famous charge to all Americans – “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Even then, I marveled at the fact that in 1865 President Lincoln wrote one of the shortest and most perfect mission statements in history, for a federal agency that would not begin to exist until 65 years later.
During that job interview, I spent a good amount to time selling my skills as a journalist and media specialist, but Lincoln’s 17 words resonated when I began to talk about my desire to serve our nation’s defenders.
No employees have a mission more important or righteous than we at VA.
A note on Lincoln’s magnificent words in his second inaugural address that we herald on this anniversary of their first reading:
Many scholars consider the speech his greatest, even with its somber, sad tone. He blamed neither side nor reveled in the forthcoming Union victory. Slavery was the cause, he clearly said and his fears were provident that the scourge would leave lasting wounds. He was conciliatory to the South, setting the stage for what he hoped to be a meaningful reconstruction period. He even mused eloquently on the issue of Divine Providence.
All that in four paragraphs and less than 700 words. And, no, there were no speechwriters then.
Lincoln was assassinated five weeks after he delivered the speech. Still, he is more alive than ever for me and, I’m sure, for millions of Americans who still benefit from his contributions to both our nation and our humanity.
On this 150th anniversary of that inaugural address, we present this tribute to President Lincoln, his words and the mission we serve each day.