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President Bush Delivers Memorial Day Address at Arlington National Cemetery

Aired May 28, 2001 - 11:27   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to take that opportunity to then skip over back to Arlington National Cemetery, where we are standing by, waiting to hear from President Bush -- speaking right now, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Let's go ahead and listen in to his introduction and then to the president's remarks.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... selflessly purchased by others at great cost. Our founding fathers warned it would always be so.

For more than 200 years, Mr. Jefferson's tree of liberty has grown from a sapling into a mighty oak. It is today so strong and sturdy that it might be tempting to believe that just perhaps the era of war and sacrifice might finally be behind us.

To some Americans, war seems unthinkable today -- a relic of a savage past that has no place in a peaceful future of our imaginations. That temptation is not new. Indeed, in 1926, a young Winston Churchill summed up the prevailing mood of his countrymen at the turn of the last century.

In an ironic tone, he said, "War is too foolish to be thought of in the 20th century. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations and trade and traffic, the sense of law, The Hague Convention, liberal principles, common sense, have rendered such nightmares impossible."

Then he mused, "But are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong." And what followed, of course, was the bloodiest century in recorded human history. Wars raged, hot and cold, leaving untold millions dead. But heroes stood in tyranny's path, and thanks to their sacrifice, liberty triumphed at the close of the 20th century.

Many of them are here in these fields.

Now we are again at the start of a new century, and once again it might be tempting to be lulled by that familiar refrain that war is finally behind us, that international law, arms agreements, growing interdependence, liberal principles, globalization, free trade and common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. But with the vastly greater power of weapons today, it would be much more than a pity to be wrong.

So we need Memorial Day. We need to remember. And that is why on his first Memorial Day as president of the United States of America, our president is here at Arlington.

It is, to be sure, a day to remember fallen heroes, but it is also the one day each year when we all pause as a nation to listen to their voices. And what might they say to us?

They might caution that liberty is fragile and that there are still enemies of freedom -- as there are -- and that with the power and reach of weapons today, we must not be wrong; that we must be prepared to deter and to defend and to prevail so that future generations will not be called upon to make the same sacrifices.

These headstones are more than memorials, they are reminders as well, warning of the perils and the price of complacency in our still dangerous and untidy world.

That is why our president has made building a 21st century military one of its highest priorities.


As he told the graduates at Annapolis on Friday, we must build a military that draws upon the revolutionary advances in the technology of war that will allow us to keep the peace by redefining war. We must do this because our armed forces are America's insurance policy in a world of change, in a world of challenge. They give comfort to our allies and friends, and they give pause to our enemies and adversaries.

I am proud to stand with him as he works to build a 21st century military that can deter aggression and extend the peace well into this new century. Veterans, men and women of the armed forces, ladies and gentlemen, it is a high privilege to introduce our Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush.




Thank you. Thank you very much. Please be seated. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for those kind remarks. Secretary Principi, General Shelton and members of the joint chiefs of staff, General Jackson, members of the Cabinet, members of the United States Congress, honored guests, we have a lot of generations represented here today, but I'd like for what's now called the greatest generation to please stand with those who served in World War II, their widows, World War II orphans, please rise.

(APPLAUSE) My fellow Americans, a few moments ago for the first time as president I paid tribute at this tomb where American soldiers were laid to rest. Their names are known only to God, but there's much we do know about them and about all the others we remember today. We know that they all loved their lives as much as we love ours. We know they had a place in the world, families waiting for them and friends they expected to see again.

We know that they thought of the future, just as we do, with plans and hopes for a long and full life. And we know that they left those hopes behind when they went to war and parted with them forever when they died.

Every Memorial Day we try to grasp the extent of this loss and the meaning of this sacrifice, and it always seems more than words can convey.

All we can do is remember and always appreciate the price that was paid for our own lives and for our own freedom.

Today, in thousands of towns across this great land, Americans are gathered to pay their own tributes. At 3 o'clock this afternoon, Americans will pause for a moment of remembrance. They will meet at monuments or in public squares, or like us, at places where those we honor were laid to rest.

More than any words we say, the truth is told in the things we see in markers and dates and names around us. Some of the names here at Arlington are written large in our history: President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert; General George C. Marshall; Second Lieutenant Audie Murphy of Kingston, Texas; General Chappy James; Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. of the Union Army; Captain Robert Todd Lincoln; Generals Bradley and Pershing; Admirals Leahy and Rickover; and three of the men who planted the flag at Iwo Jima. These men were known for their war time service and also for the lives they lived afterward.

For many, however, the afterward never came. Within these 200 acres are the remains of men and women who died young, some very young. Walking along these paths, a visitor to this national cemetery might view these markers as one great national loss, and that is certainly the case. But we must remember for many who come here there is one marker that will always stand out among all the others. In their eyes, it lays alone.

For one woman, Memorial Day brings thoughts of the father she never knew. She recalled, as a young child, learning to pray the words, "Our Father, who art in Heaven," thinking she was talking to her own father. For others, there's the memory of the last kiss as the train pulled away, a last wink and parting wisecrack from a big brother, a brave smile from a son who seemed like a boy. And then there was the telegram that came.

To those who have known that loss and felt that absence, Memorial Day gives formal expression to a very personal experience. Their losses can be marked, but not measured. We can never measure the full value of what was gained in their sacrifice. We live it every day in the comforts of peace and the gifts of freedom. These have all been purchased for us.

From the very beginning, our country has faced many tests of courage. Our answer to such tests can be found here on these hills and in America's cemeteries from the islands of the Pacific to the north coast of France.

And on Memorial Day we must remember a special group of veterans, Americans still missing and unaccounted for from Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War and World War II. We honor them today. They deserve and will have our best efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting and, alive or dead, to return them home to America.


It is not in our nature to seek out wars and conflicts, but whenever they have come, when adversaries have left us no alternative, American men and women have stood ready to take the risks and to pay the ultimate price.

People of the same caliber and the same character today fill the ranks of the armed forces of the United States. Any foe who might ever challenge our national resolve would be repeating the grave errors of defeated enemies. Because this nation loves peace, we do not take it for granted; because we love freedom, we are always prepared to bear even its greatest costs.

Arriving here today, all of us passed the strong, straight figures of men and women who serve our country today. To see their youth and discipline and clarity of purpose is humbling to a commander-in-chief. They are the new generation of America's defenders. They follow an unbroken line of good and brave and unfaltering people who have never let this country down.

Today we honor those who fell from the line, who left us never knowing how much they would be missed. We pray for them with an affection that grows deeper with the years, and we remember them, all of them, with the love of a grateful nation.

God bless America.


KAGAN: We heard comments there from President Bush, his first as president, marking the Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. We earlier saw him lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

From here, the president is off to Mesa, Arizona for further ceremonies on this Memorial Day 2001. You will those here on CNN.



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