Floor Statement Paying Tribute to George Panichas
Mr. REED. Mr. President, I join my colleague and friend Senator Whitehouse in paying tribute to an extraordinary American, an extraordinary Rhode Islander, George Panichas. Senator Whitehouse, with eloquence and obviously great feeling that I share with him, recognized this extraordinary individual. He has been a friend and a mentor to both of us. He has been a force throughout his life for not only what we believe is central to America--opportunity for all, a sense of fairness and justice and decency--but he also has been intimately involved in his native land, Greece and Cyprus.
He is someone who represents the ideal of what an American should be. As a young man, he was a member of, at that time, the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew 50 missions. He was a gunner on the aircraft. I think all of us recognize--although we did not participate in such challenging assignments--the kind of courage and mental toughness it takes to get in that aircraft and risk your life 50 times at least and to do so in an atmosphere of tension and danger. And George did it.
Like so many of his generation, when he came home, he did not boast about it. He decided, though, that his service was not going to end with his discharge from the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was going to continue to serve this Nation because he had participated with his colleagues, his contemporaries, in a noble effort. He understood the decency of America. He was part of it, and he understood the great challenges ahead--challenges to build a fair, just, and more equal society. He took it upon himself to do that in many ways.
He was a successful businessman. That was just one aspect of his contribution to the community. He was, as my colleague said, a State representative in our house of representatives. He was the first Greek American elected to the State house in Rhode Island. He was a staunch advocate for veterans. He was the leader of an effort that started many years ago in the sixties and seventies to build a State veterans cemetery in Rhode Island and to continue to maintain the highest quality at our State's veterans home. In fact, those two institutions, particularly the cemetery, are monuments to his efforts.
He undertook this great effort at a time when there was a lot of discussion about the service of veterans, but no one was standing up and doing what George was doing--cajoling and persuading and convincing and using all manner of his charming temperament and his booming voice to start to assemble the resources in Rhode Island, and then nationally, to build what I feel--and I am sure I am speaking for my colleague--is the finest State veterans cemetery in the country. It is a place of reverence. It is a place of inspiration. It is a place the families of Rhode Island veterans feel is appropriate as a resting place of those who served this Nation.
In October of 2008, in recognition of his great dedication and service, the administration building at the cemetery was named after George--a fitting tribute.
In addition to being an active patriot of his country, our country, the United States of America, he never lost sight of the need to be a powerful force in Greek-American relations. His constant efforts to assist, both in terms of business enterprises in Greece and in terms of charitable organizations in Greece, and his continued work to pull together the bonds between Greece and the United States were remarkable. He was someone who was keenly interested and very effective in advocating a wise American policy toward Greece and Cyprus and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
He was an extraordinary individual, and he will be missed. In all his endeavors, he had the support, the love, and derived strength from his wife Angela, who was a wonderful woman. And of course his daughters, Denise and Joan, have continued the tradition of service in making the community a better place, and his son George, Jr., has a proud name and he carries it proudly. Of course, his grandchildren are remarkable too.
I think the only way to end these few words for a great gentleman is to recall the words of another Greek--Thucydides--who said:
The bravest of the brave are those who see both the glory and the danger and go forth to meet it.
George Panichas did that as an airman, as a citizen, as an American who used his opportunity to help others.
Mr. President, we miss this great gentleman, and we are so honored to be able to say a few words about him.
I yield the floor.