Editor’s note: The following is the text of a speech delivered by Fox News co-host Dana Perino at the Fox News Proud American July Fourth celebration at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
My fellow Americans – welcome to the best Fourth of July celebration in the United States of America.
There is no place I’d rather be than with you here at Patriots Point as we remember that on this day in 1776 our nation adopted the Declaration of Independence. Upon their signatures began the great experiment to create the most wonderful and free country the world has ever known.
As a nation and as individuals, we are not perfect – in both our distant and most recent past, we have been humbled…we have been brought to our knees in grief…we have marveled at the healing power of forgiveness…and so, we keep trying to improve, to be better, and to meet the challenge of protecting the God given right that He gives as a gift to every human being – the right of individual liberty, to be free, to be independent.
I’ll tell you from my personal experience of traveling the world as the press secretary to President George W. Bush that there’s no mistaking an American.
I want to thank Patriots Point and The Patriots Point Development Authority Board including Chairman Ray Chandler and Executive Director Mac Burdette. In addition, thank you to the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, the Yorktown Foundation, and Sticky Fingers Top Shelf Catering (though I may withdraw that thanks when I try on my swimming suit tomorrow).
This year the Fourth of July Fireworks Blast is being shared with Fox News fans all over the country. What better place to spend the holiday than here – rich in history and patriotism, home to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, and – just across the water, within view of the many church bells of Charleston, our most recent tragic example of how fragile life is, how confronting evil can test our limits, and how astounding in grace and compassion American citizens can be.
Charleston, what courage you showed just three weeks ago . What unity, which I know this community has actively worked to build, and believe me it showed in the aftermath of the shooting.
We are a grateful nation for your leadership and community spirit. You led us well, when we should have been leading you. With a humbled broken heart for the gut wrenching violence you experienced, I thank you for having me here today and for being the best our country has to offer.
I really appreciate the warm welcome, but I just hope you don’t think you’re clapping for somebody else. See, I’ve been the victim of mistaken identity before – it happens in politics and television all the time…
I remember once I was at a New York Jets game. And anyone who watches “The Five” on Fox News knows, I fit in at a sporting event about as well as Tom Brady at a press conference—it’s just not my cup of tea.
But, I was privileged to be in the owner’s box when another guest approached me and said, “Oh my Gosh. I love you. I love your work. I watch your show every day. I think you’re amazing.”
I was so touched and thanked the man very much. And then he said, “Oh by the way, you look great after the baby.”
That’s when I realized I had just met the future president of the Megyn Kelly fan club. I decided to take it as a major compliment and didn’t correct him. I’d love to hear his side of the story. He probably says, “She’s a lot shorter than she looks on TV! (And, to answer one of the most frequently asked questions…yes, I’m even shorter than [fellow co-host] Greg Gutfeld).
While I’ve been mistaken for others, I’ll tell you from my personal experience of traveling the world as the press secretary to President George W. Bush that there’s no mistaking an American.
We have many identities and labels for ourselves here at home – we are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, Millennials, Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and on and on. How we describe ourselves becomes a personal point of pride, a way to sort out how we approach life, but it can also be used to divide.
Identity politics is a terrible way to run a nation – and that is why it is important that at least on this day every year we come together with only one identity –- ingrained in the universal right of freedom and independence that nobody can take that away – we are Americans, and we are proud.
Sure America is changing. Some say it’s changing too fast. There are questions of who is America now and who will she be? But I believe that we will never lose our national identity because it is rooted in independence.
We declared our independence from an oppressor on this very day 239 years ago and we were able to do so because of the solidarity Americans had with each other.
No matter how much we squabble, there are many, many more things that unite us than separate us.
It's one thing that overseas travel teaches you. Every time I leave America, I end up saying the same thing: "Thank God my great-grandparents were brave enough to leave the only home they’d ever known to help create the best country the world has ever seen.”
MY STORY AND THE AMERICAN DREAM
From that day forth, many of us have had the privilege of experiencing a little something called the American Dream.
In case you haven’t guessed, Perino is an Italian surname. My great-grandparents on my dad’s side were born in Italy. They were poor farm workers with little hope of a better lifestyle. And even though they spoke almost no English, thanks to the kindness of others they were able to make it from Ellis Island to Illinois and then to Wyoming. My great-grandparents grew up three miles apart in little villages near Torino, Italy – but they had never met. They met here. They married. They homesteaded in the Black Hills. And three generations later, I was born.
Imagine the gumption that took -- to land in New York, with no English, and make their way to the Wild West. I won't go to the corner store without a GPS and a way to phone a friend. These people crossed a continent. They were a different breed, motivated to find a better life. And that was the power of the American Dream.
My great grandmother lived to be 100 years old, so I got to know her and remember years ago watching the Fourth of July parade from her front porch of her town house in Newcastle. My grandfather would ride his horse in the parade with the other County Commissioners, and we’d squat on the curb ready to pounce when they threw some candy our way.
On those summers on the ranch, I thought I’d never leave the West. I thought all I ever needed was right there and pity the poor city fellas that didn’t have what we had…but that’s what’s so great about America. One day you’re sitting on a barnyard fence thinking you’ll never leave, and the next you’re the press secretary on Marine One with the president of the United States.
My great-grandparents walked in on one side of the American dream and I walked out on the other. God bless America indeed.
MY TRAVELS WITH PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
President George W. Bush once said of America that, we are “a Nation with a mission -- and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace - a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman.”
I traveled the country and the world with him as he spread that message of hope and freedom. From Iraq to China to Russia and all over the world – the ideals of freedom live on. They were born with the inalienable right to be free, too – it’s just that their governments suppress those rights.
I also traveled all over the United States with President Bush, from Alaska to Hawaii to Kansas and even to the beautiful Palmetto State, South Carolina.
Many of you might not know, but South Carolina is my adopted home on the East Coast. I came for a wedding a few years ago and was totally charmed.
I feel at ease here in South Carolina that I haven’t felt elsewhere – and that’s thanks to your hospitality, manners and sense of community.
I think it is beautiful here. I love the oak trees and Spanish moss. I love porch swings, folk art, fiddles and fiddlers.
Thank you for keeping the history intact, so that all of us can learn about the founding of the country as well as the war that tested our limits.
My husband and I plan to be here long term – and of course, that makes America’s Dog, Jasper, VERY happy.
And thank you also for the food: fire shrimp, fried green tomatoes, and coconut cake, which have also tested my limits a few times.
Now I’m very aware that without my past, I wouldn’t have a future in South Carolina. President Bush gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to be the first Republican woman to serve as the White House Press Secretary – and then Fox News gave me a chance to figure out how I could speak for myself rather than for someone else. I’m grateful beyond measure for the confidence that’s been placed in me.
It’s safe to say that President Bush was one proud American. Some people used to say he had a swagger, but as he puts it, “in Texas, they call that walking.”
Of course, one of the best things about working for him was watching his interactions with our military.
Now, living in Texas – a place President Bush calls “the Promised Land” and Mrs. Bush calls “the After Life” – he says the only thing he misses about being president is being the commander in chief.
I witnessed every day his respect, honor, commitment and sense of duty to the armed forces.
One of my favorite stories was when he decided to take a last minute trip right before he left office to go see the Navy SEALs.
We arrived at a hangar full of young American men wearing suits and sporting really long beards. They clearly were preparing for a mission.
The president bounded onto the stage to thunderous applause. He spoke from the heart and without notes, and when he finished he had tears in his eyes and the SEALs ignored his pleas to stop clapping. It was the only order of his that they didn’t have to obey.
After his speech, a couple of SEALs came over to ask me if I was the press secretary and if they could get a photograph with me. As their buddy got his camera ready, I decided to make a little small talk.
“What made you want to become a Navy SEAL – family tradition, sense of adventure, chance to see the world, physical challenge?
“Oh no, ma’am, chicks dig it,” he said.
I then asked the second SEAL, “When you are preparing to go…wherever it is that you may be going. Do you have to take a lot of language courses?”
“Oh no ma’am…we’re really not there to talk.”
When we got back to Marine One, I told President Bush that story and he threw back his head and laughed and said, “God, I love those guys.”
Being around Navy SEALs can be very humbling, and I’m honored to know some of those heroes.
I’ve met several other proud Americans in my life – starting with my grandfathers. One fought in the Pacific, the other in Europe. Both of them rarely spoke of the war – they put it behind them, loved their wives and raised families, built businesses and served their communities. I miss them so much, and I have always been proud to be the granddaughter of two World War II veterans.
My husband, now there’s a proud American…but of the naturalized kind. He was born in the United Kingdom, his dad served in the Royal Air Force. Then, 18 years ago in 1997, he and I boarded a plane to fly from Denver to Chicago. We were assigned seats next to each other – and two hours later we were in love and have been together ever since.
Peter knew that when he married me, my country came as part of the package. And he wanted to be an American. He chose to become a citizen, and our country is better off having him. And now I feel like Lady Liberty is the only other woman in his life. He’s one of those people who loves everything that is America—baseball, barbecues…and apparently, cowgirls from Colorado and Wyoming.
We spent our first year together in his home country of England. We lived in a coastal village, about 20 miles north of Liverpool. It was cool and always raining, but I was determined to have a Fourth of July party. My father-in-law advised me to dial back the American independence bit. But I thought, goodness, no, everyone loves America! Right?
Well, even though they may have thought it was a little odd to have a backyard BBQ in the drizzle to celebrate America’s birthday, I’ll never forget how I had brought from the States a bunch of Fourth of July- themed napkins and little toothpicks with American flags on them – how I searched for Graham crackers and Hershey’s chocolate and had to improvise with rich tea biscuits and Cadbury’s – and when the day came, I was the proudest American. I wanted my guests to love my country as much as I did. For dessert, I made those S’mores and my neighbor, a World War II bomber pilot, devoured his with a knife and fork -- and then asked for more.
That year in England I learned so much including how much I loved America. We didn’t quite last a year in the U.K. before I was ready to come home.
I had never been more proud of my country than when I was away from it.
I can see there are a lot of proud Americans in this crowd as well – they practice daily acts of kindness and are part of the fabric that holds the greater Charleston community together. Let me tell you about a few of them:
FOLDS OF HONOR -- THE CHILDEN OF APRIL AND NELSON TRENT
Of course, we also know that freedom is not free. So many men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice or have suffered life altering injuries in the service of our nation. We are grateful beyond measure for their service. And that is why we must continue to support them and their families.
Folds of Honor presented two scholarships earlier this year to the children of April and Nelson Trent. April and Nelson both served in the military and were married before her first deployment. They served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, on his third tour, Nelson was killed by a suicide bomber. Through her grief, she continued to raise their two children, David and Cameron. They are deserving of these scholarships and deserve our unending support and gratitude.
EVERYDAY ACTS OF BRAVERY
Corporal Adam Willis is one of many police officers that regularly do heroic acts. That’s part of the job. But just a month ago, Willis deserved special praise for his selfless act when he came upon a burning vehicle and realized there was a man, lying unconscious, in the car.
Willis said he didn’t stop to think about the danger, with the adrenaline running through his veins, he just reached in and got the guy out. He says the only thing he thought was, “Please, don’t be dead.” Without Corporal Willis, the man surely would have died – and so thank you for the daily courage you show, and for that particular heroic act that saved the life of a man you never even met.
CHARLESTON UNITY MARCH
As Charleston reeled from the evil shooting at the Emanuel AME Church, Lauren Dorsey and Darcy Creaturo were moved to action. They were heartbroken and wanted a way to show the solidarity of the community. It was no small feat, but they were able to organize a walk across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge to show support for the families and to bring the citizens of Charleston together.
The police force helped make it all happen – and that evening, nearly 15,000 people showed up to participate. They wanted to be a part of an act that showed the spirit of Charleston. And each step across the bridge brought them closer together through grief and into healing.
Darcy and Lauren – you reminded us the power of choosing to do something brave, complicated, inconvenient. And worth every moment. Your community and your country thank you. And, believe me, your children will speak of your kindness for the rest of their lives. What an example you’ve been for all of us.
LOYALTY TO COUNTRY
It’s proud Americans like those who remind us of the importance of serving the national interest and not the self-interest.
IT’S POSSIBLE TO REMAIN HOPEFUL & CIVIL IN THE MONTHS AHEAD
One additional thing I’d like to leave you with today is there’s reason for us all to remain hopeful even as another campaign cycle heats up.
Yes, there’ll be some heated exchanges, some contentious debates, some accusations and condemnations. But look on the bright side: Piers Morgan is gone.
As Americans, we can find ways to disagree without considering our political opponents as our enemies. I wrote in my book. “And the Good News Is…” that Democrats are people too.
It’s true, I saw it on the Discovery Channel.
One of the most memorable days I spent at The White House was when President George W. Bush invited President-elect Barack Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter for a private lunch.
I remember grabbing Robert Gibbs’ arm and pulled him into the Oval Office for the photo opportunity. We stood next to the grandfather clock and watched how the five of them stood together for the cameras and showed the world how election after election we can still overcome the acrimony of a political campaign to work together.
What an honor it was to be with five duly elected presidents of these United States.
What it represented was so important. It demonstrated one of the hallmarks of the American system: the peaceful transition of power. There were no recriminations among these men. Nobody took off their shirts or challenged anyone to arm-wrestle. This wasn’t Russia.
The dignity, stability, and integrity of the American way was embodied in that room, by five extraordinary men.
So, whatever happens in 2016, we should recall that whoever wins, the peaceful transition to a new president is itself a victory, one unique in history. And we would do well to appreciate that fact before we start arguing again.
We no doubt will – which is all right too. After all – it’s how I make my living. But today, ladies and gentlemen, we are all Americans, and proudly so. Let’s celebrate together – sharing our identity of independence.
It has been a pleasure to be here with all of you today – I thank you and Fox News for this opportunity. It is one I will always cherish.
May God continue to bless all of you, and the United States of America.