BOSTON — GEN. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told graduates of a special four-month job-training program for war veterans that "with hard work and courage, wounds can be healed."
Speaking Wednesday at a homeless shelter for Vietnam veterans, General Powell delivered the commencement address for 13 graduates of the program sponsored by Boston-based Vietnam Veterans Workshop Inc.
"You can stand up again," he said. "You can stand up as proud as you were at the first day of basic training. You can stand up as worthy as any other Vietnam veteran or other veteran that has ever served the nation."
Powell spoke before hundreds of people, including friends, families, military officials, and state political leaders. He described the shelter and program as "a labor of love in action."
"When I heard about everything ... that is going on in this shelter, I knew that whatever else I was going to do in Boston - speak to a school, speak to Harvard, go to receptions - the one thing I had to do was to come here to see this shelter," he said.
The program offers unemployed veterans training in automated accounting, computer programming, and business mathematics. Provided at no cost to students, it is funded by grants from the United States Labor Department. Wednesday's event marked the graduation of the program's first class.
More than half the graduates are Vietnam veterans, some of whom have found jobs, says Ken Smith, president of Vietnam Veterans Workshop. Some have been in and out of homeless shelters.
"I'm back to bringing home a weekly paycheck," said graduate Bill MacNeil. "I have been out of work for a year and a half."
Douglas Durbin was pleased to have completed the program. "It feels great! I am just waiting to get out there and hold a job permanently," he said.
Many graduates were excited to hear Powell speak. The general also delivered Harvard University's commencement address yesterday. His presence at the university angered homosexual groups because he does not support allowing gays in the military.
But at the veterans' graduation, he did not mention his disagreement with President Clinton on the issue. Rather, he said he admired Clinton for speaking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day even though he did not serve in the war.
"I want every veteran here to know I was enormously proud to stand alongside my commander in chief as he paid his respects for those fallen heroes," Powell said.