By TONY PERRY, Times Staff Writer
SAN DIEGO--The ceremony could have been one of those
occasions. But Anthony J. Principi, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam,
wanted a setting that reinforced the importance of the issue involved.
And so a ceremony to thank private-sector employers
who responded to a
hire-a-vet campaign took place on the aircraft carrier Independence in San
Diego Bay, the West Coast home of the Navy.
In a tone heavy with emotion, Principi, then-deputy
Veterans Affairs, told 400-plus people on the deck of the mighty warship
that the nation can never ignore its debt to its military veterans.
"Our history today is what it is because those
young Americans kept
faith with their country," Principi said that spring day in 1989.
up to us to keep faith with them."
Principi left government at the end of the
administration of President
Bush, but his concern for veterans did not end. Two years ago, he served as
chairman of a nonpartisan commission that found many veterans benefits and
services outdated, ineffective or wasteful.
Now, Principi, 56, who has strong ties to this Navy
and Marine Corps
town, will have the chance to take the lead in implementing the 100-plus
recommendations made by the commission.
On Friday, Principi was named by President-elect
George W. Bush as
secretary of Veterans Affairs, heading a $41-billion-a-year,
219,000-employee agency entrusted with providing medical care and other
services to 27 million veterans. The department is second in size only to
the Department of Defense.
Principi, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe and who headed
veterans-for-Bush committee in California, comes with strong backing from
veterans organizations and retired military brass, many of whom believe that
the VA has suffered under the Clinton administration.
"Tony is no shrinking violet. He'll tell it like
it is and do what's
right, with wisdom and forethought," said retired Marine Corps Gen. and
Commandant Charles Krulak, who recommended Principi for the post. "The
of veterans over the years has slowly and surely degraded, and at the same
time there's been a growth in bureaucracy. Tony's appointment is a powerful
sign that this administration wants to take care of veterans."
Principi, born in the Bronx, was a football star at a
high school, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967 and served in
Vietnam as commanding officer of a river patrol force in the Mekong Delta,
earning a Bronze Star, with a "V" for valor, and other decorations.
He graduated from Seton Hall University Law School in
1975 and returned
to active duty in the Navy in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, assigned
to prosecute and defend military personnel. Transferred to Washington, he
was legislative counsel for the Department of the Navy.
After leaving the Navy, he served in a variety of
jobs, including staff director of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs,
staff director and chief counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee and
deputy administrator for congressional and public affairs for the VA.
During the final months of the earlier Bush
administration, he was
acting secretary of the department. He called for greater concern for the
illnesses suffered by Persian Gulf War veterans and expressed frustration at
bureaucratic red tape and infighting.
"He's a good manager, he understands government,
and he can handle
people," said former Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery (D-Miss.).
"It's not going
to be an easy job. But Tony knows the programs, he'll work hard and he'll be
fair to the veterans."
Like many Navy families, the Principis spent several
stretches in San
Diego, leaving for assignments elsewhere.
From 1992 to 1994, he was a partner at Luce, Forward,
Scripps, one of San Diego's blue-chip law firms. He later worked as a real
estate broker and is currently president of QTC Medical Services Inc. in
"He's very quiet, but he's very 'take charge' at
the same time," said
San Diego attorney Terry Bingman. "He can get people to follow him
lot of shouting."
Principi's father, Antonio, was an Italian immigrant
from Argentina. He
owned an electrical supply firm in Harlem and served as an enlisted man in
the Navy during World War II.
Principi and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, a retired Navy
lawyer, married in
1971 and have three children: Air Force Capt. Anthony Principi, 27,
stationed in England; Air Force Lt. Ryan Principi, 24, stationed in
Oklahoma; and John, 22, a film major and lacrosse player at UC Berkeley.
The Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans
with Principi as chairman, criticized the government's home loan, medical
care, job training and saving plans for veterans. It called for boosting
reenlistment bonuses and combining the VA and Department of Defense medical
programs, among other things.
For hobbies, Principi lists skiing and landscaping.
The family plans to
sell its home in Rancho Santa Fe.
"Our mother is so proud, she's been crying all
day," said Principi's
sister Nancy Scull, a San Diego lawyer.
* * *
Profile: Anthony J. Principi
* Born: April 16, 1944
* Education: Undergraduate degree, U.S. Naval
Academy, 1967; law
degree, Seton Hall University Law School, 1975
* Career highlights: President, QTC Medical Services
Affairs acting secretary, 1992-93; VA first deputy secretary, 1989-92;
Republican chief counsel, staff director of Senate Committee on Veterans
Affairs, 1984-88; majority chief counsel, staff director for Sen. Alan K.
Simpson (R-Wyo.), 1984-86; VA deputy administrator, 1983-84; U.S. Navy,
* Family: Wife, Elizabeth Ann; 3 sons
* Quote: "America now reaps the fruit of the
service of 24 million
veterans. However, their service imposes upon us a reciprocal obligation. .
. . I know of no mission more worthwhile than serving the men and women who
have so honorably served their nation."
Source: Associated Press
"When the way comes to an end, then change - having changed, you pass
through" 'I Ching'