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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at the Dedication Ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Dallas, Texas

1989-11-11

Thank you, Governor. Thank all of you, on this beautiful day. Governor Clements, thank you, sir. Mayor Strauss, Mayor Bolen, Brad Wright, Mr. Russell, Judge Burkett, and Art Ruff and Chaplain Adickes, members of the foundation, but especially my fellow veterans and Texans and fellow Americans, I am just delighted to be back here, and so is Barbara. It's a privilege to be with you and to officially dedicate a monument that is proud and patriotic and thus quintessentially Texan: the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Four times in this century, the sons of America have crossed the oceans to fight for the freedom of others. Their blood has consecrated ground in places well-known and obscure, from Argonne to Bougainville, from Omaha Beach to Inchon, from Con Thien to the Mekong Delta. And because they gave the last full measure of devotion, our nation is at peace. And because of them, the peaceful ideals of America are now the ideals of the world.

Look to the very heart of Europe, to Berlin, and you will see a great truth shining brighter with each passing day: The quest for freedom is stronger than steel, more permanent than concrete. Victor Hugo said: ``Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.'' Well, my fellow veterans, the idea is democracy. And around the world, the 1990's will be the decade of democracy.

Memorials like these are the very embodiment of our nation, expressing our deepest values and our character as a people, for we Americans navigate by such symbols. The St. Louis Arch, pointing toward the West; the Statue of Liberty, its silhouette a morning star of freedom; the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, whose majesty proclaims the principles of self-government -- each reflects what we are as a nation and as a people.

And so it is here today, for the Lone Star heroes of America's longest war. For this memorial moves us and inspires us, and its lessons live as oral history, passed from one generation to another. This memorial is not merely stone and masonry, as striking as they are; it's a tangible testament to America's love for the living, and for the dead.

Last year nearly half of the visitors to America's Vietnam memorials were boys and girls age 12 years and younger, and these children don't necessarily remember the Southeast Asia conflict. And when they wonder, what is this memorial all about? -- we owe them an answer, an answer whose honesty will be worthy of our veterans.

And they will ask, first: Who were these men and women, these Lone Star heroes of Vietnam? And we must tell them they were black and white, red and brown -- almost a quarter of the names on this memorial are Hispanic -- native-born, foreign-born, the privileged and the poor. But most of all, they were Americans -- Americans from the barrios of San Antonio or the city streets of Houston, the vast expanse of west Texas; Americans who were young and probably often frightened, so very far from home.

And next, the kids will wonder: Well, what did they value, these brave young soldiers? And we must tell them they valued freedom, they valued human dignity, and they loved the U.S. And so, they overcame their fear, which after all is the very definition of courage. In a struggle which, like every war, showed man's inhumanity to man, they strove to prove man's fidelity to honor.

And then the kids will say: Why were these boys in Vietnam? And we will say, because to defend democracy and liberty is always a valiant cause -- in the fields of Flanders to the rugged cliffs of Normandy, whether scaling Korea's hillsides or trudging through those rice paddies of the Mekong.

And we will tell them further the story of the boat people, gallant men and women who fled the very brutality that we were fighting, and of that memorable day when those Vietnamese refugees -- alone and vulnerable in an overloaded, sinking boat -- were spotted by the aircraft carrier Midway. And as the carrier approached, many were crying and all were waving, calling out, ``Hello, American sailor! Hello, freedom man!'' So, when our children ask why were we in Vietnam, we must point to those boat people, regrettably some of them still fleeing, and say, for them -- for the liberty that can ensure for individuals, choice; for society, pluralism; and for nations, self-determination.

And finally, our children will ask: Well, how do we salute the men who fought for freedom? We salute them by never forgetting that true peace means the triumph of freedom -- not merely the absence of war, but the triumph of freedom. And we salute them through memorials like this and by thanking the volunteers who made it possible -- Vietnam vets, cities and towns, communities, foundations, organizations, and other contributors. And we honor them by giving all our vets the hope and opportunity that they have earned and by teaching our children what this memorial teaches us: about selflessness and sacrifice, qualities which know no generation.

Unlike other veterans, the brave boys who went to Vietnam had to endure two wars. The first was that one waged in the swamps and the jungles abroad, and the second was fought for respect and recognition at home. And with the passage of time, they have won the battle for the hearts of their countrymen -- and in my view, it's about time. The children who come here today and will come tomorrow evidence that victory. They must know about the courageous people whose names illuminate these tablets. The men who died would want our kids to have a future they never knew -- a future without war, without fear. Their sacrifice helped make that possible.

Abraham Lincoln termed that sacrifice ``the last full measure of devotion.'' And we must never forget it. For if the Texans we honor today could speak, they might say, ``Praise us as you will, but above all, we want to be remembered.'' And today we do remember the Lone Star heroes of America's longest war, and through them, heroes throughout our history -- America's uniformed sons and daughters who took up arms and bore our burden for a cause larger than themselves.

And today we remember the more than 3 million Americans who served in Vietnam, among them, so many proud Texans. Men like Plano's Sam Johnson, a prisoner for 7 years in what they called the Hanoi Hilton -- tortured, but never defeated -- now a State legislator representing the people of his district here in our great State.

And also this morning, we remember America's wounded from the Vietnam conflict and the many brave Texans who paid a heavy price. They were proud of the United States; they make us proud today.

And then there's another: there are our missing or unaccounted for, and we remember them, too. For while they may be missing -- missing in action and from our lives -- they are not missing from our thoughts or our hearts. And so, that POW/MIA flag now flies at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and POW/MIA Recognition Day. And we will continue to see that every one of them is accounted for.

Finally, we remember the 58,175 Americans who gave their lives in Vietnam and the 3,427 brave men -- the third largest number of any State -- who came from over 600 Texas cities and small towns. Men like Ruben Jose Carbajal of El Paso, 21 when he was killed by a fragmentation device; Robert Larry Oaks from Lamesa, 20, killed by rifle fire. Both died exactly 20 years ago today. And, yes, think of these men and honor them. Recall how they served in Dak To and Khe Sanh.

Last month, I got a letter that I'd like to share with you. It was from Connie McWright, of Dallas, and in it she talked of her family -- four sons, a daughter -- and how she lost two of those boys on the battlefields of Vietnam. ``Ed and Dale,'' she wrote, ``died with the marines. They were both extremely proud to represent Texas. Ed asked that I send him a Texas flag.'' She said his buddies called him ``Big Tex.''

And several moments ago, I met with her -- Mrs. McWright; her daughter, Connie; son, Wayne. And in her letter, she told me that each of her children had a dream: Wayne, to have an antique car; Ed, to be a ballplayer; Dale, to own a stable. Connie's dream, her mother said, had been to one day shake hands with the President of the United States. Well, Mrs. McWright and Connie, it is I who am honored to shake your hands. For it is you and millions of other mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons who embody the decency, service, and courage that makes this memorial a monument to everything that America is and can become.

And so, this is your memorial, Ed and Dale's memorial, the memorial which honors the spirit of the Alamo and San Jacinto and earlier heroes named Travis and Houston and Bowie. And now it is my great privilege to officially open this tribute to the greatest sons and daughters any nation could ever have: the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Fellow vets, I salute you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:51 a.m. at the memorial. In his remarks, he referred to Mayors Annette Strauss of Dallas and Bob Bolen of Fort Worth; Brad Wright, master of ceremonies for the dedication; Paul T. Russell, Jr., and B.G. Burkett and Art Ruff, president and cochairmen of the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, respectively; and Rev. Donald K. Adickes, who dedicated the memorial. Following the ceremony, the President and Mrs. Bush traveled to Camp David, MD, for the weekend.

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