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Special Event

Clinton Lays Wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Aired November 11, 2000 - 11:05 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live to Washington, Arlington National Cemetery, president of the United States having laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on this, Veterans Day.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is there amid the crowd.

Kelly, worth pointing out here, to bring it back to the now and the present, that the president is embarking on a trip to Vietnam that has many veterans a bit rankled. All throughout his nearly eight years now -- I'm sorry, Kelly. Throughout these eight years, he's had a -- well, to say the least a rough road with veterans, hasn't he?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. He definitely has had somewhat of a difficult relationship with veterans and with the nation's military. But as you said he will be embarking on this journey. It will be the first visit by a president to Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War. Obviously the president facing some controversy because of the positions he took as a graduate student and as a college student, opposing the war. And then there was the controversy over whether or not he in fact avoided the draft.

But the president saying that from the beginning of his administration until now, he has worked on normalizing relations with that country based on progress made in the accounting of those missing in action. The president citing lots of progress that has led to more normal relations with the country. The president saying, though, that the country still needs to have closer and more cooperation. But the president saying that he hopes this trip will embark on a new chapter in the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam. Certainly not ever closing a door on the Vietnam War, but certainly the president wanting to, Miles, look forward on a relationship between these two countries.

O'BRIEN: Yes, perhaps not closing the door on the Vietnam War but certainly opening the door to some economic possibilities. Vietnam on the cusp of, well, a new economic reality. I know the president wants to encourage that.

WALLACE: Absolutely. And certainly what the two countries have done is basically normalizing trade relations between the two countries. Basically, the president trying to encourage Vietnam to basically embrace globalization, expanding trade with not just the United States but other countries around the world. Obviously the president believing that that will certainly improve the economic climate in that country.

It will also, in the view of the United States, lead to more human rights freedoms and religious freedoms in that country. But definitely trade will be a big topic of conversation as well as the focus on human rights and religious freedoms, Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Kelly Wallace, Arlington National Cemetery.

On the other side of the Potomac today, they are breaking ground on a memorial which some would say is way past due. That is a memorial for those who served in World War II. some 400,000 Americans killed in that war.

CNN's Kathleen Koch is there for the groundbreaking of this particular memorial on the Mall -- Kathleen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY DILORENZO, PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR: This is where we were when the bomb hit us.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. Nineteen-year-old Tony DiLorenzo saw the attack begin from the deck of the USS Honolulu.

DILORENZO: I saw the battleships burning, big black smoke just boiling over.

KOCH: DiLorenzo displays his war memorabilia proudly, but others put away such memories.

RICHARD MALLOY (ph): I wrote a note when I sent this to my parents. It says, "This is the snarl I used to scare the Jerries (ph)."

KOCH: Richard Malloy's platoon was surrounded by German troops New Year's Day, 1945, as the Battle of the Bulge raged to the north. He and one other man survived.

MALLOY: You did what you were supposed to do, which was fire your gun in the direction of the enemy and so I did. When we got out of there, why, there were bodies all over.

KOCH: Tracy Sugarman didn't talk about the war for 50 years until his wife unearthed battlefront sketches he'd mailed home. They're now in a book. One details the attempted rescue of the crew of a U.S. ship sinking off the Normandy coast two weeks after D-Day.

TRACY SUGARMAN, AUTHOR, "MY WAR": We were racing out in this storm, trying to rescue them, and rescuing almost none of them. It was like a nightmare in slow motion. It was terrible. And until I made these drawings, I was having a real hard time.

KOCH: As World War II veterans see their ranks dwindle, they debate how best to remember their war.

LUTHER SMITH, TUSKEGEE AIRMAN: And that was a defining moment when all Americans came together.

KOCH: Many support the new World War II Memorial, to be built on the National Mall.

DILORENZO: Our memories will be there in black and white.

SUGARMAN: We won a war that had to be won and it couldn't have been won without us.

KOCH: But others doubt the practical value of such granite structures.

MALLOY: I think they're irrelevant. I mean they're, you know, it's nice but I don't think it's important, in quotes. There's nothing you can learn about war except that it's something you shouldn't do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOCH: And as you can hear, they are ready for a sentimental journey here on the Mall, at the site of the memorial. Hundreds of veterans have lined up for more than a block getting to this site. There are expected to be about 3,500 of them joining in the ceremony.

Now there is controversy about this location. Some believe it's very fitting that the memorial to World War II, the defining moment of the 20th century, should be front and center on the U.S. Mall. But there are several veterans groups who believe that this will obstruct the view, the sweeping vista from the Washington Monument here before me and the Lincoln Memorial behind me.

So they have filed a lawsuit in court, and they are trying to stop the site process, stop the construction. That's actually why when they have the groundbreaking here today, they're not actually going to be digging their shovels into the ground. There's actually a very long flower box where the president and others will be turning the dirt to symbolically get the construction of this memorial under way. But it is still up in the air, held by that lawsuit.

Kathleen Koch, reporting live on the National Mall -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Kathleen, I hope you can here me over the 1940s tunes there -- OK, she's nodding. You know, it's kind of unfortunate that after all this time and with the veterans growing very old, that there's a political controversy over its placement. I don't think anybody, or very few people, as you say, would begrudge them a good piece of real estate there in the Mall.

KOCH: Miles, it has -- the issue came up really back in '97. That's when the protest initially began about this, because a lot of people were not aware that this was the site that was selected. And many have said that, yes, indeed, the veterans deserve the memorial, that this is perhaps the right memorial but the wrong place. Some would like to see it moved just slightly to the north here, to an area called Constitution Gardens not too far from here beyond the row of elm trees. But it's a very difficult thing for the veterans to deal with. Those who oppose it say they don't want their legacy to be the defacement of the Mall, the National Mall. Others, though, again, say this is exactly the spot for it, that it was such an important point in U.S. history, when the entire nation came together.

And this memorial also does honor civilians. It honors the achievement and commitment of the entire country. So it is a tough moment, though.

O'BRIEN: All right, Kathleen Koch, who is at the -- well, they're not going to break ground, but we'll call it a groundbreaking ceremony anyway...

KOCH: Close enough.

O'BRIEN: ... thank you very much.

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