- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

DALLAS — Ross Perot, one-time third-party contender for the presidency, will be honored here this week for his efforts on behalf of U.S. servicemen.

The colorful billionaire who made two runs for the White House has seldom appeared publicly since the 1996 election.

But on Thursday, the Business Executives for National Security (BENS) will bestow its Eisenhower Award on Mr. Perot in a festive display featuring American military leaders and heroes. BENS is a nonprofit organization of military and corporate leaders seeking practical solutions to pressing national security issues.

Eisenhower Award winners include former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers, and current Bush administration National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Perot quit his sales job at IBM and started what was then a revolutionary data processing company called Electronic Data Systems. The feisty former Naval Academy graduate became interested in helping prisoners of war involved in the escalating Vietnam War.

At the urging of the Nixon administration, he agreed to work toward bettering the lives of POWs, particularly those treated inhumanely by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.

Mr. Perot dealt directly with Viet Cong contacts, soldiers of fortune, even noninvolved nations — often to the chagrin of the State Department. Later, he chartered large jets to fly Christmas gifts and prisoners’ wives to Southeast Asia, hoping the Viet Cong would let them visit their spouses. At one juncture he unsuccessfully offered to personally pay millions for the release of prisoners.

None of these efforts resulted in dramatic diplomatic victories or releases, but several prisoners later said they had known of the efforts and had been strengthened in their resolve by them. After the Vietnam War, Mr. Perot personally helped scores of those who returned, helping them find jobs, get psychological and medical care and often underwriting reunions for various units.

In the early 1990s, when many servicemen who served in the Persian Gulf war suffered from debilitating illnesses that the military could not diagnose and often refused to treat, Mr. Perot stepped forward.

He footed the bill for an expensive diagnostic investigation by doctors at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School to learn about the disease and study ways to treat it. Besides funding that study, Mr. Perot flew those suffering with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to Dallas for treatment.

“I have been waiting since 1973 to see Ross Perot honored appropriately for his efforts on behalf of the Vietnam era POWs. Finally it is being done,” said Charles G. Boyd, a retired Air Force general who now is president and CEO of BENS.

Thursday’s affair will be black tie, and more than 1,500 have stated their intention to attend, including a handful of high-ranking U.S. military leaders, several Vietnam POWs, Medal of Honor recipients and several members of Congress.

The U.S. Naval Academy glee club and the Texas A&M; honor guard will perform, and several veterans will speak in praise of Mr. Perot. Those who cannot attend will send messages via videotape.

Tables for the fete cost between $2,500 and $25,000.

“These modern-day heroes are honoring Ross for going to extraordinary lengths to assist service people who couldn’t get help through regular channels,” said Ruth Collins Altshuler, one of the co-chairmen of the event. “Ross has been as true a friend to those in uniform as anyone in our lifetime.”

“These private histories show how Mr. Perot has responded over the years to the needs of soldiers, providing lifesaving medical care, life-changing therapies, specialized prosthetic arms and legs and transportation for friends and family members during times of crisis,” Mr. Boyd said.

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