WALTERBORO — The deep-rooted Texas twang is still there, even if the voice is not as strong as it used to be.
H. Ross Perot, the billionaire one-time presidential candidate and friend to servicemen and women everywhere, visited a veterans nursing home Monday to deliver a thank-you to all those who have worn the uniform.
“Your services and sacrifices have given us the freedom that we have today,” Perot said during a 15-minute address.
“You understand something that most people simply don’t understand, and that is: Freedom is not free.”
Perot, 83, delivered the keynote address at the Veterans Victory House where more than 400 people gathered in the site’s lunchroom-turned-auditorium. Many were elderly and in wheelchairs. Some served as far back as World War II, including several Tuskegee Airmen and at least one local survivor of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Perot made a rare trip to South Carolina after being invited to speak by Rudi Gresham, a retired Green Beret and former presidential adviser. He has known Perot for 35 years. Gresham is a Walterboro area resident.
Following his Veterans Day remarks, Perot clearly felt a little reluctant to discuss the 1992 presidential campaign that much of the country and voters in South Carolina remember him most for.
“Well, it didn’t work. We tried twice,” he said of his failed independent run in 1992 against Republican George H.W. Bush and eventual winner Democrat Bill Clinton. He also tried briefly in 1996.
Perot still thinks political reporters and the television networks didn’t always play to a level playing field during his campaigns for the White House waged from outside the mainstream.
“Whatever it was, the media I think kept it pretty much out of control,” he said of his bids.
He added, “I’m not saying it’s a raw deal; I’m saying they were for one of the other candidates.” He didn’t elaborate.
Perot finished Election Day 1992 with 19 percent of the popular vote, costing Bush, some experts have said, a second term in office.
Outside of politics, Perot has a long history of involvement in veterans’ causes, ranging from trying to locate missing servicemen in Southeast Asia to pursuing medical care for Desert Storm veterans to finding more in-depth treatment for wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of those in attendance Monday was Army Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who four years ago this month was shot multiple times at Fort Hood by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Lunsford called Perot a friend of the veterans community for going out of his way to ensure that they get better treatment.
Perot told The Post and Courier he still has fond, but not very specific, memories from stumping in South Carolina during his 1992 presidential run. It was a time when most of the state’s Republican-led political establishment was behind Bush, and Perot was seen as a pariah.
“Great experience here,” Perot said. “Great state. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Anything specific? “It’s been too long. I can’t say,” he added.
In many ways, Perot’s 1990s message of fiscal responsibility still resonates; many credit him for being one of the early voices sounding a warning bill against runaway Washington spending.
As far as today goes, Perot said unless there is a greater shift at the grass-roots level, American voters will continue to elect the very same politicians responsible for pushing the nation deeper into its current and increasing financial hole.
“It just keeps going up and up an up; makes no sense at all,” he said of the expanding national debt.
“But I really can’t blame anybody except the average citizen, because they keep getting anybody that’s giving (the) goodies,” he said. “They don’t realize somebody has to pay this back some day, and our country is getting weaker and weaker all the time financially.”
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551