Skip to comments.BUSH: WWII Memorial Dedication (TRANSCRIPT)
Posted on 05/29/2004 3:03:03 PM PDT by RobFromGa
Remarks by the President at National World War II Memorial Dedication
National World War II Memorial
World War II Memorial Page
3:09 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. I'm honored to join with President Clinton, President Bush, Senator Dole and other distinguished guests on this day of remembrance and celebration. And, General Kelley, here in the company of the generation that won the war, I proudly accept the World War II Memorial on behalf of the people of the United States of America. (Applause.)
Raising up this Memorial took skill and vision and patience. Now the work is done, and it is a fitting tribute, open and expansive, like America; grand and enduring, like the achievements we honor. The years of World War II were a hard, heroic and gallant time in the life of our country. When it mattered most, an entire generation of Americans showed the finest qualities of our nation and of humanity. On this day, in their honor, we will raise the American flag over a monument that will stand as long as America itself.
In the history books, the Second World War can appear as a series of crises and conflicts, following an inevitable course -- from Pearl Harbor to the Coast of Normandy to the deck of the Missouri. Yet, on the day the war began, and on many hard days that followed, the outcome was far from certain.
There was a time, in the years before the war, when many earnest and educated people believed that democracy was finished. Men who considered themselves learned and civilized came to believe that free institutions must give way to the severe doctrines and stern discipline of a regimented society. Ideas first whispered in the secret councils of a remote empire, or shouted in the beer halls of Munich, became mass movements. And those movements became armies. And those armies moved mercilessly forward -- until the world saw Hitler strutting in Paris, and U.S. Navy ships burning in their own port. Across the world, from a hiding place in Holland to prison camps of Luzon, the captives awaited their liberators.
Those liberators would come, but the enterprise would require the commitment and effort of our entire nation. As World War II began, after a decade of economic depression, the United States was not a rich country. Far from being a great power, we had only the 17th largest army in the world. To fight and win on two fronts, Americans had to work and save and ration and sacrifice as never before. War production plants operated shifts around the clock. Across the country, families planted victory gardens -- 20 million of them, producing 40 percent of the nation's vegetables in backyards and on rooftops. Two out of every three citizens put money into war bonds. As Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby said, "This was a people's war, and everyone was in it."
As life changed in America, so did the way that Americans saw our own country and its place in the world. The bombs at Pearl Harbor destroyed the very idea that America could live in isolation from the plots of aggressive powers. The scenes of the concentration camps, the heaps of bodies and ghostly survivors, confirmed forever America's calling to oppose the ideologies of death.
As we defended our ideals, we began to see that America is stronger when those ideals are fully implemented. America gained strength because women labored for victory and factory jobs, cared for the wounded and wore the uniform, themselves. America gained strength because African Americans and Japanese Americans and others fought for their country, which wasn't always fair to them. In time, these contributions became expectations of equality, and the advances for justice in post-war America made us a better country.
With all our flaws, Americans at that time had never been more united. And together we began and completed the largest single task in our history. At the height of conflict, America would have ships on every ocean, and armies on five continents. And on the most crucial of days, would move the equivalent of a major city across the English Channel.
And all these vast movements of men and armor were directed by one man who could not walk on his own strength. President Roosevelt brought his own advantages to the job. His resolve was stronger than the will of any dictator. His belief in democracy was absolute. He possessed a daring that kept the enemy guessing. He spoke to Americans with an optimism that lightened their task. And one of the saddest days of the war came just as it was ending, when the casualty notice in the morning paper began with the name, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Commander-in-Chief.
Across the years, we still know his voice. And from his words, we know that he understood the character of the American people. Dictators and their generals had dismissed Americans as no match for a master race. FDR answered them. In one of his radio addresses, he said, "We have been described as a nation of weaklings, playboys. Let them tell that to General McArthur and his men. Let them tell that to the boys in the flying fortresses. Let them tell that to the Marines."
In all, more than 16 million Americans would put on the uniform of the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the Marine, the Coast Guardsman or the Merchant Mariner. They came from city streets and prairie towns, from public high schools and West Point. They were a modest bunch, and still are. The ranks were filled with men like Army Private Joe Sakato. In heavy fighting in France, he saw a good friend killed, and charged up a hill determined to shoot the ones who did it. Private Sakato ran straight into enemy fire, killing 12, wounding two, capturing four, and inspiring his whole unit to take the hill and destroy the enemy. (Applause.) Looking back on it 55 years later, Joe Sakato said, "I'm not a hero. Nowadays they call what I did 'road rage.'" (Laughter.)
This man's conduct that day gained him the Medal of Honor, one of 464 awarded for actions in World War II. Americans in uniform served bravely, fought fiercely and kept their honor -- even under the worst of conditions. Yet they were not warriors by nature. All they wanted was to finish the job and make it home. One soldier in the 58th Armor Field Artillery was known to have the best-kept rifle in the unit. He told his buddies he had plans for that weapon after the war. He said, "I want to take it home, cover it in salt, hang it on a wall in my living room so I can watch it rust."
These were the modest sons of a peaceful country, and millions of us are very proud to call them Dad. They gave the best years of their lives to the greatest mission their country ever accepted. (Applause.) They faced the most extreme danger, which took some and spared others, for reasons only known to God. And wherever they advanced or touched ground, they are remembered for their goodness and their decency. A Polish man recalls being marched through the German countryside in the last weeks of the war, when American forces suddenly appeared. He said, "Our two guards ran away. And this soldier with little blonde hair jumps off his tank. 'You're free,' he shouts at us. We started hugging each other, crying and screaming, 'God sent angels down to pick us up out of this hell place.'"
Well, our boys weren't exactly angels. They were flesh and blood, with all the limits and fears of flesh and blood. That only makes the achievement more remarkable -- the courage they showed, in a conflict that claimed more than 400,000 American lives, leaving so many orphans and widows and Gold Star Mothers.
The soldiers' story was best told by the great Ernie Pyle, who shared their lives and died among them. In his book, "Here Is Your War," he described World War II as many veterans now remember it. It is a picture, he wrote, "of tired and dirty soldiers, who are alive and don't want to die; of long, darkened convoys in the middle of the night; of shocked, silent men wandering back down the hill from battle; of Jeeps and petrol dumps and smelly bedding roles and C-rations; and blown bridges and dead mules and hospital tents and shirt collars greasy-black from months of wearing; and of laughter, too, and anger, and wine, and lovely flowers and constant cussing. All these, it is composed of; and of graves and graves and graves."
On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited, and decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together. And women who watched the train leave, and the years pass, can still see the handsome face of their young sweetheart. America will not forget them, either.
At this place, at this Memorial, we acknowledge a debt of long-standing to an entire generation of Americans: those who died; those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind. And now I ask every man and woman who saw and lived World War II -- every member of that generation -- to please rise as you are able, and receive the thanks of our great nation.
May God bless you. (Applause.)
END 3:24 P.M. EDT
God bless all those who were so young, strong and so very far from home in defense of our country.
Now they are elderly men...some still strong and some very frail. They deserve our respect and our thanks and we give it to them freely. This Memorial was long overdue but what day for them this must be. Such courage. Such devotion to country.
God bless President Bush. He cares. My Lord how he cares.
Happy Memorial Day everyone!
Secretary Powell on Memorial Day
Every Memorial Day, my sister, Marilyn, and I would put on our Sunday best and accompany our parents to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to visit the graves of family members. Like all kids, my sister and I were happy to have the day off from school, and I can't say we were in a solemn frame of mind. But taking part in that annual rite of remembrance gave me my first sense of the importance of honoring those who have gone before.
I grew up and chose a soldier's life. I lost close friends in war. Later, I commanded young men and women who went willingly into harm's way for our country, some never to return. A day doesn't pass that I don't think of them. Paying homage to the fallen holds a deeply personal meaning for me and for anyone who ever wore a uniform.
In 1990, when I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I took my Soviet counterpart, Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev, around the United States. I wanted to give him a better understanding of what America is all about. We started in Washington, D.C. I especially wanted to take him to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
But I didn't take him there directly. First, I took him to the Jefferson Memorial. I pointed out a passage from the Declaration of Independence carved into its curved wall. All who have served in our armed forces share its sentiment. "And for the support of this Declaration," Jefferson wrote, "... we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Then I asked the general to look up. Above the statue of Jefferson, in 2-foot-high letters on the base of the monument's dome, is this inscription: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
Here, I said, you see the foundation of America, a nation where "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." I told the general that like Washington, Jefferson and all our Founding Fathers,
Americans of every generation are ready to fight and die for those unalienable rights.
Then, to show Gen. Moiseyev the kind of sacrifices Americans are willing to make, I took him to the Lincoln Memorial, where Lincoln's words at Gettysburg are engraved. There, Lincoln said we had fought the bloodiest war in our history so our nation "shall have a new birth of freedom" and so "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." I wanted Gen. Moiseyev to see how sacred those words are to Americans.
I showed the general the final lines of Lincoln's second inaugural address: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan..."
I then walked the general part of the way down the Lincoln Memorial's steps to the place from which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. I explained that the unfinished work of which Lincoln spoke was still unfinished a century later, so from the very spot on which we stood, King challenged his fellow Americans to make the promise of our Founding Fathers come true for all Americans.
Only now was I ready to take Gen. Moiseyev to the Vietnam memorial. We walked the short distance from the Lincoln Memorial to the Wall. I showed the general how to find someone's name on it. I looked up Maj. Tony Mavroudis. Tony and I had grown up together on the streets of New York. We went to college together. We became infantrymen together. And in 1967, on his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Tony was killed. The memorial book directed us to Panel 28 East, and there we found ANTONIO M MAVROUDIS carved into the black granite. It was an emotional moment for me, and not just for me. Gen. Moiseyev reached out gently and touched the Wall. The infantryman in him understood.
Thankfully, our forces no longer face the prospect of war with the Soviet Union. Today, we are cooperating with Russia's evolving democracy and with other former foes against 21st-century dangers common to us all.
Today's deadly threats come from rogue powers and stateless networks of extremists who have nothing but contempt for the sanctity of human life and for the principles civilized nations hold dear.
I do not know or care what terrorists and tyrants make of our monuments to democracy and the memorials we dedicate to our dead. What's important is what the monuments and memorials say to us. They can teach us much about the ideas that unite us in our diversity, the values that sustain us in times of trial, and the dream that inspires generation after generation of ordinary Americans to perform extraordinary acts of service. In short, our monuments and memorials tell us a great deal about America's commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.
The haunting symbolism of the 168 empty chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the heartbreaking piles of shoes in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the carefully tended headstones bearing crosses, crescents and Stars of David standing row-on-row in Arlington and our other national cemeteries - all speak to the value we place on human life.
The Vietnam Women's Memorial of the three servicewomen and the wounded GI; the Korean War Veterans Memorial's haggard, windblown patrol trudging up the rugged terrain; and the memorial of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima do not glorify war - they testify to the glory of the human spirit.
The Civil War battlefields and the monument in Boston to Robert Gould Shaw and his 54th Massachusetts Regiment of Negro soldiers who rode together into the jaws of death for the cause of justice tell us of the price past generations have paid so we might live in a more perfect union. They remind us also of the work our generation must do.
This Memorial Day weekend, we will join in celebrating the opening of the National World War II Memorial honoring the great generation of Americans who saved the world from fascist aggression and secured the blessings of liberty for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Today, their descendants are fighting the global war against terrorism, serving and sacrificing in Afghanistan and Iraq and at other outposts on the front lines of freedom. The life of each and every one of them is precious to their loved ones and to our nation. And each life given in the name of liberty is a life that has not been lost in vain.
In time, lasting memorials will stand where the Twin Towers once etched New York City's skyline, near the west side of the Pentagon, and in the Pennsylvania field where doomed heroes died on Sept. 11, 2001, using their last moments to save the lives of others and most probably the Capitol or the White House - symbols of our living democracy.
All of us lead busy lives. We have little time to pause and reflect.
But I ask of you: Do not hasten through Memorial Day. Take the time to remember the good souls whose memories are a blessing to you and your family. Take your children to our memorial parks and monuments. Teach them the values that lend meaning to our lives and to the life of our nation. Above all, take the time to honor our fellow Americans who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country and for the freedoms we cherish.
Memorial Day is not only a long weekend and a Picnic.
A strong performance indeed. Thanks for the transcript, Rob. Thank God the whole event went off without incidence. I'm looking forward to the President's remarks next week.
After our chat, I sent him a link to this photo essay article written by someone who visited the Memorial the evening before the dedication:
Our President has again given all a glimpse into the soul of our nation.
America will sorely miss these defenders of freedom, when they are all gone. I can almost not imagine America without them.
Thanks to all who serve, and those who support them.
George H.W. Bush must still be in pretty good shape. Did anyone see him shove Cinton in the chest today? Clinton said something to the elder Bush and Bush playfully shoved Clinton. Moved him back a couple of feet. It must have been in fun because they were both laughing.
Frankly, I find it infuriating that William "Hill Billy" Clinton has the nerve to share the same podium with President Bush I. Where does he get off, mingling with his social betters like that? President Bush I is New England blue blood, of the first order, a decorated combat vet, and Yale Graduate.
Clinton's heritage is common as dirt. And, to be perfectly honest, so is Clinton's behavior.
Not that I am a big Clinton Fan, but Joe Scarborough pointed out that Clinton has NOT criticized GWB during this Iraq War. Yes, he has been doing things behind the scenes for the democrats, but he has not been criticizing GWB like Gore, like Kerry, etc. I think he might be more center than many of us think. In fact, I can't imagine Clinton choosing Gore for a VP if he were running this year. I think we should all just enjoy today; he was there as a former president. And no, I am not a troll.
President Bush represented the entire country in accepting the WWII Memorial. His speech left out no one that contributed to our victory. His acknowledgement of military members that took the war to our enemies was outstanding.
"As Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby said, "This was a people's war, and everyone was in it."
What? No Jimmah Cahtah there to honor the WW 2 veterans?
You make excellent points. Anyone as articulate as you can not be a troll.
I was scared to death that Clinton was going to speak and ruin the whole thing. He didn't. Whew!
Clinton is wise not to criticize Bush. He knows his own record on terrorism is too thin. He'll be called into question by history. The best he can do is shut up and let Bush deal with the world as it is. If he plays his cards right, he'll only be criticized for not seeing the storm clouds.