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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks at the Community Welcome for Returning Troops in Sumter, South Carolina


Thank you all. Thank you all very, very much. Thank you, Governor Campbell, thank you so very much. And thank you all for that warm welcome. Mayor Creech, thank you, sir. The City Council Chairman Gray, I thank you. To Senator Hollings and the distinguished Members of the House of Representatives who are with us today; my thanks to Nancy Thurmond, whose husband is away overseas, but one of the strongest supporters the military ever had -- Senator Strom Thurmond, my thanks to him. And, General Olsen, to you, sir, my respects -- just back from superb service overseas. I'm delighted to be on this platform with you.

But most of all, thank you, Sumter. What a fantastic welcome. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your example. And thank you for showing all what a great land this is. And thank you for letting me come and share in this, my first, but this wonderful reunion. I couldn't be happier to be here. Thank you.

What is it, what is it about Sumter and Sumter County that breeds war heroes? In this century alone, you have supplied some of our greatest warrior-citizens. General George Mabrey, who died just last year, was the second most decorated soldier in the history of the United States. And as many of you know, he helped train a young lieutenant colonel in Vietnam, and that colonel was General Norman Schwarzkopf.

And of course, the coalition victory in Kuwait would not have been possible without General Chuck Horner. Mary Jo, we are delighted that you're here with us today. Now stand up -- [applause]. You see, for those of you who didn't follow it -- and that's not many -- General Horner merged people and plane from 30 bases here in the United States, 6 Navy carriers, the Marines, and 9 allied nations into a seamless theater air force. And he mapped out the most intense, most successful air assault in history. And we are very grateful to him. You see, it was that powerful, precise air assault that helped coalition forces crush Saddam's war machine, while sparing innocent Iraqi citizens and while saving allied lives. Can you think of a better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Shaw Air Force Base than this? I can't. It is fantastic.

You don't have to wear a star to be a hero. We're surrounded by such people today. Let's start with the mother of all units at Shaw, the headquarters. [Laughter] The 9th Air Force and the U.S. Central Command Air Forces. And let's thank the 363d Tactical Fighter Wing. [Applause] Look at these guys. And let's thank the 507th Tactical Air Control Wing. [Applause] And all the other units and tenant units here. And let's not forget other South Carolinians -- the McIntyre Air National Guard Unit and the forces from all across this great State.

For those of you who are a little groggy from last night's flight home, welcome home. We're delighted to have you all back. I can't tell you how proud we are of each and every one of you. And to all our servicemen all across this country, we say thank you. And to the veterans of every conflict, we say thank you. And let this new spirit in our country give proper recognition to the Vietnam veterans. Their time has come.

And to all of those who have returned from overseas, God bless you. Please stand up so we can see each and every one of you. There they are. [Applause] And to those who toil still over there, God bless them, too. You know, you all not only helped liberate Kuwait, you helped this country liberate itself from old ghosts and doubts. And when you left, it was still fashionable to question America's decency, America's courage, America's resolve. No one, no one in the whole world doubts us anymore.

What you did, you helped us revive the America of our old hopes and dreams. And this nation learned something else during Desert Storm: You don't have to wear a uniform to be a war hero. Here, crowded on the bleachers, and out there in the field are heroes and heroines of all ages -- mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, neighbors, friends. And while you in the service were overseas -- I've never seen anything like it -- the loved ones and even strangers all across our great country hung out yellow ribbons, unfurled flags, sent letters and gifts to those of you overseas. And while you service men and women fought on distant sands, those you left behind talked and prayed. And I know that every little thought, every good wish, every whispered prayer somehow echoed in the hearts of the fighters far away. No one understands this magic, but it is the kind of blessing that enables good people to accomplish great deeds.

But there is something very, very special about Sumter's sacrifice and its triumph, and you all know it. I had the pleasure of visiting here in 1988. And since then, Hurricane Hugo ripped through 12,000 homes in this area, destroyed nearly 0-million worth of property in its high winds and pouring rains, shredded your homes and your neighborhoods, turned trees into tinder. Sumter gathered its strength after the storm and began literally to pick up the pieces.

But just as things seemed to be turning around, the war erupted. And you did something extraordinary. You sent many of your finest men and women to serve. Troops departed. Reservists left their workplaces. And some people, newly married, were separated by war. Mothers bore children to fathers who looked across the horizon at an unseen foe.

Captain Dale Cormier died fighting for his country. And Captain Spike Thomas had to be plucked behind enemy lines. And, Captain Thomas, it's great to see you here today, sir. Where is he? And while you're all standing, let me also salute Lieutenant Neck Dodson, who led your rescue. We're glad he's here, too.

And as the war loomed, you in Sumter did not give in to despair or fear. You recruited new businesses and new jobs, and while the troops were away, you continued to build a new city, a better city -- a city that is more like a large family. And you planted the seeds of prosperity among hardship's ruin. And I've talked in recent weeks about America's renewal, and today you feel it. You see it all around us here today.

And I'm amazed but never surprised at the incredible things our people do. Our success in the war showed that we take a backseat to no one when it comes to courage, ingenuity, dedication to principle. But it also showed that we do great things when we trust our people. We would not have enjoyed such success if someone had tried to micromanage the war from Washington, DC. We entrusted the operations to Sumter's products and heirs, and look where we are today.

And I'm proud to say that we did it without arrogance around the world. We led without gloating or arrogance. And I think that's an American tradition as well.

You know -- let me just say this in finale -- look around you. Here is today's triumph but also tomorrow's hope. Here's what we fight for: family, friends. Here is what we love.

Thank you again for letting me be a part of this emotional homecoming. I'll never forget it as long as I live. God bless each and every one of you. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4:32 p.m. at Sumter Memorial Stadium. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina; Stephen M. Creech, mayor of Sumter; Rubin Gray, chairman of the Sumter County Council; Senator Ernest F. Hollings; Nancy Thurmond, wife of Senator Strom Thurmond; Maj. Gen. Thomas Olsen, vice commander, 9th Air Force and Central Command Forces; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf; Mary Jo Horner, wife of Lt. Gen. Charles Horner, commander, 9th Air Forces and Central Command Air Forces; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and Capt. Dale Cormier, Capt. Spike Thomas, and Lt. Neck Dodson, servicemen stationed at Fort Sumter.

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