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Special Event

President Clinton Speaks at World War II Memorial Ground Breaking

Aired November 11, 2000 - 2:24 p.m. ET

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

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: And we return to the nation's capitol where President Clinton is speaking at ground-breaking ceremonies for the World War II Memorial.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Thurmond once told me that he was the oldest man who took a glider into Normandy. I don't know what that means, 56 years later, but I'm grateful for all of the members of Congress, beginning with Senator Thurmond and all the others who are here, who never stopped serving their country.

But most of all I want to say a thank you to Bob Dole, and to Elizabeth, for their service to America.

(APPLAUSE)

As my tenure as president draws to a close, I have had, as you might imagine, an up-and-down relationship with Senator Dole. But I liked even the bad days. I always admired him. I was always profoundly grateful for his courage and heroism in war, and 50 years of service in peace.

After a rich and long life, he could well have done something else with his time in these last few years, but he has passionately worked for this day, and I am profoundly grateful.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: I also want to thank the men and women and boys and girls all across our country who participated in this fund-raising drive, taking this memorial from dream to reality. Their stories are eloquent testimony to its meaning.

Senator Dole and I were sitting up here watching the program unfold today. He told me an amazing story. He said, "You know, one day a man from Easton, Pennsylvania, called our office. He was a 73- year-old Armenian-American named Sarkus Acopious (ph)." And he said, "You know, I'd like to make a contribution to this memorial. Where do I mail my check?" -- this caller.

So he was given the address, and shortly after, this man who was grateful for the opportunities America had given him, a check arrived in the office, a check for $1 million. (APPLAUSE)

But there were all the other checks as well, amounting to over $140 million in private contributions. There were contributions from those still too young to serve, indeed, far too young to remember the war. More than 1,100 schools across our nation have raised money for the memorial by collecting cans, holding bake sales, putting on dances.

Let me just tell you about one of them: Milwaukie High School in Milwaukie, Oregon. Five years ago, a teacher named Ken Buckles (ph) wanted to pay tribute to the World War II veterans. He and his students searched out local veterans and invited them to school for a living history day.

Earlier this week, Living History Day 2000 honored more than 3,000 veterans with a recreated USO show that filled a pro basketball arena. Last year's event raised $10,000 for the memorial, and students think that this year they'll raise even more.

Now what makes those kids fund raise and organize and practice for weeks on end? Well, many have grandparents and other relatives who fought in the war, but there must be more to it than that.

They learned from their families and teachers that the good life they enjoy as Americans was made possible by the sacrifices of others more than a half century ago.

And maybe most important, they want us to know something positive about their own generation as well, and their desire to stand for something greater than themselves. They didn't have the money to fly out here today, but let's all of us send a loud thank you to the kids at Milwaukie High School and their teacher, Ken Buckles (ph), and all the other young people who have supported this cause.

(APPLAUSE)

The ground we break today is not only a timeless tribute to the bravery and honor of one generation, but a challenge to every generation that follows. This memorial is built not only for the children whose grandparents served in the war, but for the children who will visit this place a century from now, asking questions about America's great victory for freedom.

With this memorial, we secure the memory of 16 million Americans, men and women who took up arms in the greatest struggle humanity has ever known.

We hallow the ground for more than 400,000 who never came home. We acknowledge a debt that can never be repaid. We acknowledge as well the men and women and children of the home front, who tended the factories and nourished the faith that made victory possible; remember those who fought faithfully and bravely for freedom, even as their own full humanity was under assault: African-Americans who had to fight for the right to fight for our country, Japanese-Americans who served bravely under a cloud of unjust suspicion, Native American code- talkers who helped to win the war in the Pacific, women who took on new roles in the military and at home.

Remember how, in the heat of battle and the necessity of the moment, all of these folks moved closer to being simply American.

And we remember how after World War II, those who won the war on foreign battlefields dug deep and gave even more to win the peace here at home, to give us a new era of prosperity, to lay the foundation for a new global society and economy by turning old adversaries into new allies, by launching a movement for social justice that still lifts millions of Americans into dignity and opportunity.

I would like to say once more, before I go, to the veterans here today what I said in Normandy in 1994: Because of you, my generation and those who have followed live at a time of unequaled peace and prosperity. We are the children of your sacrifice and we thank you forever.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: But now, as then, progress is not inevitable. It requires eternal vigilance and sacrifice. Earlier today, at the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, we paid tribute to the fallen heroes of the United States Ship Cole, three of whom have recently been buried at Arlington. The captain of the ship and 20 of the crew members were there today. We honor them.

Next week I will go to Vietnam to honor the men and women America lost there, to stand with those still seeking a full accounting of the missing.

But at the same time, I want to give support to Vietnamese and Americans who are working together to build a better future, in Vietnam, under the leadership of former congressman and former Vietnam POW, Pete Peterson, who has reminded us that we can do nothing about the past but we can always change the future.

That's what all of you did after the war with Germans, Italians and Japanese. You've built the world we love and enjoy today.

The wisdom this monument will give us is to learn from the past and look to the future. May the light of freedom that will stand at the center of this memorial inspire every person who sees it to keep the flame of freedom forever burning in the eyes of our children, and to keep the memory of the greatest generation warm in the hearts of every new generation of Americans.

Thank you and God bless America.

RANDALL: President Clinton in Washington shaking hands with there with former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, his presidential opponent four years ago. Today they are standing together. The event is ground-breaking ceremonies for the World War II memorial.

Kathleen Koch in Washington has been tracking this story. Kathleen, are you with us?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I am, Gene.

RANDALL: This project has not been without controversy, has it?

KOCH: No, it hasn't been, Gene. And this is a very bittersweet moment for the thousands of veterans who showed up for the dedication this afternoon on the Mall, because not only have millions of them died -- of the 16 million who fought in World War II there are only 6 million who are still alive, and the members of the World War II generation are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day -- but there are some veterans themselves who actually oppose the location of the memorial.

They believe that it shouldn't be right there, right there at the end of the reflecting pool between the Lincoln and -- Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. They believe that that will desecrate that open, flowing vista that is a part of the mall, part of its history and its initial design.

And so for many of the veterans today that we're hearing this phrase that it's long overdue, it's something that they all believe should have happened long ago, it tugs at their heartstrings that some of their very own don't believe that this is appropriate.

RANDALL: And give us the time frame, Kathleen. How long did it take from the planning stage to the groundbreaking?

KOCH: Gene, it -- the whole idea initiated back in 1987 when a congresswoman, Marcy Captor (ph), was speaking to some veterans, and one of the gentlemen, named Roger Durbin (ph), of Ohio said, "Where's our memorial in Washington? Where is it?" She pointed to Iwo Jima and he said, "No, that's not in Washington, and that doesn't honor all of the veterans of World War II."

So Congresswoman Captor got the ball rolling then and finally Congress approved the idea in 1993. Now they've finally raised the $140 million that it's going to take to build this memorial.

But there is still this bone of contention about its location. That has gone to court, and there's some question as to whether that could actually hold up construction of the memorial -- Gene.

RANDALL: And I suppose there is a bit of irony here, Kathleen, because even before this memorial is built, there is in Washington already a Vietnam War memorial, even a Korean War memorial. And now finally a World War II memorial.

Kathleen, how long will it take to construct this?

KOCH: If all goes well, if there are no court battles that delay this, they hope to begin construction in March and then have the memorial completed, they told me this morning, by, say, Memorial Day of 2003. That is their goal, and many veterans here today hope that they reach that, because the gentleman who I spoke to you about earlier, Mr. Durbin, whose whole idea this was back in 1987, he died earlier this year, and his wife was at the ceremony this afternoon and is very pleased to see that his dream is really coming true. RANDALL: We all remember there was a great deal of controversy over the design of the Vietnam memorial. How about the design of this World War II structure?

KOCH: Well, Gene, as I mentioned earlier, there's been concern that it was too large, that it was too intrusive and would block the view. Now, there have been changes in the design since it was initially submitted so that it is excavated some seven feet so it won't block the view. Also, there is a ring of some 56 pillars that encircle the monument to the north and the south, and they represent the 50 states and the six territories and the District of Columbia that were part of the United States at the time of World War II.

As you can see in the animation, there are also 41-foot-tall triumphal arches on the north and south axis of the monument. Now, those represent the Atlantic theater of World War II and the Pacific theater of World War II. And in the middle there you see the large pool, the large pond. That is on the exact site of the current Rainbow Pool which exists right now at the end of the Reflecting Pool.

So some people support it, some people believe it is dignified, it is respectful, it is very traditional, much like the generation that fought in World War II. There are others, though, who believe that the neoclassical style is a bit severe, that it is a bit too perhaps bombastic. Some say it even reminds them of some of the structures that Adolf Hitler had built during World War II.

RANDALL: Kathleen, let's...

KOCH: So controversy continues.

RANDALL: Yes, let's take a look at that live picture again. And as you look at the monitor, can you tell if they're close to the groundbreaking itself?

KOCH: Let's take a look at the monitor. Gene, I think they're preparing for it. It looks like they're getting ready. And interesting point, because of the court challenge, they will not actually push shovels into the ground today. What they have is a very long flower box full of dirt, where the president, the lawmakers, the veterans of World War II, Senator Bob Dole, and others will be sticking their shovels in.

Now, the people who are with the memorial say that that's happening simply because they haven't had a chance to get their construction permits. And they made...

RANDALL: Kathleen -- Kathleen...

KOCH: Yes, Gene?

RANDALL: ... so we don't take a chance on missing this, maybe we should go to a break and then come back.

KOCH: We'll double-check.

RANDALL: So we'll be back in just a moment.

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