SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- It was a quiet ceremony on Veterans Day at the Reagan Ranch Center of Young America's Foundation. There, the family and friends of William J. Casey gathered for the presentation of an award on his behalf from The Honourable Company of Freedom Fighters. The international organization's charter states it was "founded to recognize and honor individuals and groups which have fought for freedom, participatory government and against fascism, communism, moral relativity and terrorism in all their forms."
The citation for William J. Casey, who died in 1987, sums up a remarkable life of public service and American leadership and demonstrates the qualities revered by the organization's founders -- qualities that merit for Casey the organization's Medallion of Liberty. It reads in part:
"For conspicuous courage and fidelity in defense offreedom during service in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, as Under Secretary of State and as Director of Central Intelligence in the struggle against totalitarian fascism and communist oppression. At the risk of life and health, William Joseph Casey selflessly devoted himself to the cause of liberty.
"To the extraordinary benefit of our nation, he committed his exceptional intellect, boundless energy and passion for freedom to aiding others in overthrowing oppression. His dedication, leadership and perseverance as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency for President Ronald Reagan were crucial to liberating hundreds of millions from tyranny in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Southwest Asia.
"Despite seemingly insurmountable bureaucratic, political and fiscal obstacles, he prevailed in rebuilding the intelligence capabilities of the United States, thereby immeasurably furthering our national interests and the security of our citizens. Endowed with strategic vision, extraordinary faith in God and a belief in the rectitude of America's role as a force for good in the world, he inspired his countrymen, our allies and those in captive nations to rise up against global communism."
The Honourable Company of Freedom Fighters bestowed this high honor to recognize William Joseph Casey's "long and intrepid service, his bold and gallant leadership, and his steadfast devotion to God and country."
Those phrases describe a great American who devoted a lifetime of service to our nation, and there is no doubt that he is deserving of this honor. However, they weren't nearly as powerful as the words of his daughter, Bernadette Casey-Smith, in accepting the award on her father's behalf.
She quoted from passages of a letter her father had written to her in 1944 while he was a young naval officer in England running clandestine operations into the Third Reich for the OSS. "My Darling Daughter," Casey began his letter:
"Today is your first birthday. Though there is an ocean between us I feel that you and I, through your mother, are as close together in spirit and soul as I know your mother and I are. There is no material thing that I would not give to bring the three of us together quickly and forever.
"I remember so vividly the evening we had the picture of the three of us taken, the Sunday I left you and your mom. I was filled with a strong desire to do my part in the nasty job which faced my generation and sadness and apprehension at leaving those I loved so dearly.
"This ocean was placed between us by forces you never knew, which the generation before mine failed to control and which mine must stamp out. It is a task which must be done if we are to live in peace, freedom and decency. We shrank from the job and the danger grew.
"So today, much as I miss being with you, I am glad that I am privileged to do my small part in making our world decent, peaceful and free. If I had been with you these six months I would always have felt the uneasiness of reaping the benefits of someone else's sacrifice. Now, when we are brought together again, as we all pray daily that we shall be soon; we will know that we have earned the happiness which shall be ours.
"And if we remember that whenever the freedom or dignity of one of us is invaded, the freedom and happiness of all of us is threatened, we may be smart enough to keep this from happening all over again. If we can do that we'll be free, with God's blessing, to have fun together and in just being kind to each other & everybody else and in worship of God and in living the way He intended us to live."
Bill Casey signed the letter, "All my love, Your Dad." His moving expressions of affection for his wife and infant daughter, his frank explanation for his absence and his eloquent hope for the future of our country are a powerful legacy for those enduring a similar experience today in Iraq and Afghanistan. His words should inspire those in power to ensure their sacrifice is not in vain.