For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 28, 2001
Remarks by the President at Memorial Day Ceremony
Arlington National Cemetery
11:34 A.M. EDTView the President's Remarks
THE PRESIDENT: 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 would 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 is much we do know about them and about all the others we remember today. We know that they all loved their lives 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 a 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 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, Americans will pause for a moment of remembrance. They will meet at monuments or in public squares or, like us, in 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, in dates, in 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 wartime 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 lies 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 is 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. (Applause.)
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.