Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said his reverence for the majestic language of Abraham Lincoln will not permit a change to the department's iconic motto to make it more gender neutral.
"I'm not arrogant enough to say I want to change Abraham Lincoln's words," he said at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
Wilkie said, "I am not in favor of changing the motto" taken from Lincoln's epic second inaugural address, in which he said one of the nation's duties following the Civil War was "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan."
The motto should never be interpreted to mean the department is not committed to equality of service, Wilkie added.
"My motto is that we serve all veterans," he said.
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"I hope someday you will change your opinion on that," said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, who suggested that Lincoln himself would have favored a change to account for today's female veterans.
"In keeping with Lincoln's focus on equality for all, I'm sure if he were alive today he would say women should be acknowledged as well," and shouldn't be left off the motto "just because they didn't serve back then," she said.
Last year, Rice and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, proposed a revised motto: "To fulfill President Lincoln's promise 'To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan' by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans."
Advocacy groups have recommended another version: "To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors."
That version of the motto popped up last month on programs at a VA event, Military.com's Patricia Kime reported, but VA officials said it was a mistake. The altered version of the motto was captured in a Twitter photo by Stars and Stripes.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.