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'If You Owe Debts, Pay Debts. If Honor, Then Honor': Pence Celebrates African-American War Heroes

Mike Pence
Mike Pence

The White House is marking African-American History Month by paying homage to black Americans who gave their lives in service to the country. 

Speaking at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Vice President Mike Pence reflected on the theme of "African-Americans in Times of War." 
"It is deeply humbling for me to stand before you today in the midst of this great national monument to the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs of so many American heroes," Pence said to the crowd. 
"The good book tells us, 'If you owe debts, pay debts. If honor, then honor. If respect, then respect," Pence said. 

He went on the cite examples of African-Americans who fought "shoulder-to-shoulder to claim their birthright of liberty and equality." 
"Men like Crispus Attucks, who perished in the Boston Massacre, Lemuel Hayes who fought at Lexington and Concord," said Pence. 

"We remember the Buffalo Soldiers who helped tame the West, the Tuskegee airmen, several of whom I have had the great honor to meet, who flew for freedom in War World II," he continued. 

The vice president then shared the story of 2nd Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper. 

Flipper, a former slave, served in the Army shortly after the end of slavery.  After years of service, Flipper was falsely accused of "conduct unbecoming an officer" and received a dishonorable discharge.  

"In 1976, the Army corrected this historic wrong and retroactively awarded Henry an honorable discharge and his name and service to America was restored," said Pence.

Pence went on to praise the work of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Wednesday marks the 200th anniversary of Douglass' birth.   

On a personal note, Pence recalled a moment that helped him realize the faith and resilience of civil rights movement. 

While traveling to Selma, Alabama, in 2010, Pence walked across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge alongside congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis (D-GA) and Dr. Frederick D. Reese. It was the 45th anniversary of the march through Selma, known as "Bloody Sunday." 

"It was an extraordinary experience," Pence recalled.

As they walked over the bridge, Pence said he realized the threat of violence from state troopers and a posse that awaited the peaceful protestors 53 years ago. 

Pence asked Pastor Reese if he ever thought of turning back.

" 'Mike, we had just prayed through it at Brown Chapel and we decided to go on regardless,' " Pence quoted Reese. 

The vice president said he believes faith carried them through. 

"It was faith that carried our nation to a more perfect union, inspired out of the pews of African-American churches all across the country," said Pence. 

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