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The `Irish Pastore’ wins top Sons of Italy Foundation Award

May 27, 2011

 Sen. Jack Reed was given the top recognition Wednesday evening from the Sons of Italy at the group’s annual dinner. Reed is one of less than a handfull of Americans of Irish heritage who has been granted this honor. Here are the senator’s remarks, in which he salutes the late Sen. John Pastore, the legendary Italian-American Rhode Island senator.

I want to recognize my dear friends from Rhode Island who are here tonight.

I also want to congratulate my fellow honorees, Steve Nardizzi, Carmen Policy, Pier Francesco Guarguaglini.

This is an extraordinary honor for me.

To be recognized by the Sons of Italy means, not only joining an illustrious list of Americans, but this honor represents recognition by an organization that exemplifies the historic contributions of millions of Italians to building and defending America, while enhancing our country with the unique and timeless gifts of Italian Culture.

This evening is also a humbling experience for me.

To be in the company of soldiers like Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, and Ray and Tony Odierno is to be reminded of the heroism and sacrifice that protects us and sustains us, and, frankly, transcends any of my modest efforts.

All Americans joined with pride and profound gratitude as President Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta.  Sergeant, thank you for your extraordinary heroism and inspiring example.

For those of us who have gotten to know Tony and Ray Odierno, it is no surprise that they are here tonight.  Both have served the Army and the Nation with courage and distinction.

Now, I’ve had the occasion to work extensively with Ray Odierno.  He is one of the great commanders of his, or any other, generation of American military leaders.  His character, his professional skills and his abiding respect for those he leads make him a preeminent soldier.

You probably know that Ray and I are both West Pointers.  So, we share many things in common.  But, there are a few differences.  For example, I am a man of normal height.  And, with advancing age, unlike Ray, I prefer the simple “comb over” rather than “complete defoliation”.

I am here this evening because I was blessed to have a supportive family – and fortunate to grow up in the vibrant, ethnic community of Cranston, Rhode Island.

As you may know, until recently, Rhode Island had the highest percentage of Italian Americans than any other state.

But in the last Census, we dropped to number two.   Do not fear, we are demanding a recount, and we are confident we will prevail.

In Cranston, I learned the most important lessons not only from my own parents, but from the Villatico’s, the Lepres, the DiNapolis, and the many other families who looked out for each other and cared for one another.

These lessons were taught by example — through deeds not just words.

My father was a school custodian.  He rose early and scrubbed floors and moved desks all day – many times working nights as well.

But, he was not unusual.  Louie Vallande was the head custodian at the Gladstone Street Elementary School.  No one worked harder than Louie.  And, at the end of the day, he drove to a family plot of land in far off Western Cranston (about 2 miles from his home, but far off by Rhode Island standards) to tend his family garden.  Of course every week in the summer, the Reeds got a big basket of the best tasting vine ripe tomatoes and beans ever grown.

Indeed, they are more delicious in recollection with each passing year: hard work and simple acts of generosity, a great lesson and gift to me.

And, it was clear; all this effort was not about simply earning a living and making money, but building a better life for us.

Now, my mother, Mary Louise Monahan, ran the house.  She worked incessantly.  Indeed, it was only when I arrived at West Point and spoke to some of my classmates that I realized not everyone’s mother folded and ironed their underwear.  She consistently impressed upon us the value of education.  In America, with hard work and education, you could seize great opportunities, make great contributions, and give a new generation of Americans the chance to succeed.

That is  what she believed, what I believe, and why the $50 million in scholarships the Sons of Italy have provided to promising young men and women are so critical.

They also taught us to love this country.

Again, not through patriotic speeches, but through selfless service.

My dad served as a machinist mate in the United States Navy.  He spent three years in the Pacific.  He was proud of his service, but seldom spoke about it.  Only later, did I realize that the pomp and circumstance of drill gave way to terrifying moments under Kamikaze attack off Okinawa.  His example taught me bravery consists of doing your duty, both the mundane and the perilous, not talking about it.  And, my dad, like the other fathers, carried with them the memory of shipmates who did not return.  He and the other fathers in my neighborhood sought to give true meaning to that sacrifice and to impress upon us, not only our good fortune, but, our great obligation.

In my hometown of Cranston, with its large Italian American community – which hails from Itri, near Naples — the values of family and service are palpable.

And it is not just military service, or public service, but community service that can make all the difference in a kid’s life.

One of my most enduring and gratifying experiences as a youngster in Cranston was playing pee-wee football in the CLCF, Cranston’s League for Cranston’s Future.  It was founded in 1955 and directed for a life-time by Leo Castiglioni.  Leo and the other dads spent practically every day in season and out planning and working so we could enjoy and learn by being part of a team and striving for something more than strictly personal success.  It was a great lesson and another example of the contribution of a generous and decent gentleman to the future of his community and his country.

If Cranston gave me a start, West Point gave me an education, a sense of purpose and a commitment. It prepared me to discharge the greatest privilege, I believe, that any American can receive; the privilege of leading American soldiers.

It should come as no surprise that this transformative opportunity came because of the faith bestowed in me by a great American and a great gentleman: Rhode Island’s iconic United States Senator John O. Pastore.   He appointed me to West Point.

Senator Pastore was a first generation American whose parents immigrated from Teano which is in the Province of Caserta.

Senator Pastore was the first Italian-American in Rhode Island to be elected as a Governor.  And the first Italian-American in history to be elected to the United States Senate.

In 1967, he saw some promise in a 124 pound, 5 and a half foot tall, bi-speckled. Studious. Irish kid when he appointed me to West Point.

Senator Pastore’s confidence gave me the greatest opportunity in my life.  And, on my better days, I hope I have provided him some vindication.

Senator Pastore represented the extraordinary contributions that are celebrated by this organization.  It was his hard work that tore down barriers of stereotype and prejudice – that gave us all a better chance.  It was his example of decency, integrity, and service that inspired me and so many others.

We all know that America is the work of many hands from many lands.  But, from my life’s experience, no hands have given more to America and asked for less than the hands of the Italian-American community.

Now, with your indulgence and because of your generous award this evening, I am going to try to emulate my distinguished benefactor and predecessor in the Senate, John O. Pastore.

No one was prouder of his Italian heritage than John Pastore.  However once a year, every year, John Pastore insisted he was Irish.  It was on his birthday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day.

And on that day, he would demand, if the Senate was in session, to preside as President Pro Tem and declare throughout the day that he was Senator John O “Apostrophe” Pastore, just like the O’Learys, O’Reillys, and the O’Sullivans.

Well, thanks to your generous award and Senator Pastore’s example, henceforth, every May 25th, Senator Giovanni Reed will bask in his Italian heritage.

Thank you.

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