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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks at a Ceremony for the Posthumous Presentation of the Medal of Honor to Corporal Freddie Stowers

1991-04-24

Welcome to the White House. I salute the Vice President and Mrs. Quayle, and Secretary Cheney, other members of our Cabinet, General Vuono, distinguished Members of Congress who are with us today, and former Congressman Joe DioGuardi. I'm especially glad Joe's with us here today. To the former Medal of Honor recipients, I salute each and every one of you. To Georgiana Palmer and Mary Bowens -- the sisters of today's honoree are with us, and don't they look lovely. We are just delighted.

And a note of more than trivial passing: the honoree's great-grandnephew, Staff Sergeant Douglas Warren, of the 101st Airborne -- he returned -- he looks a little jet-lagged to me, but he returned just last night from Saudi Arabia. And I want to welcome you home.

And we also -- to do equal time to the Air Force, why, we salute you, Mr. Stowers, also back here. He's at Langley.

So, it's a lovely day here, and we welcome each and every one of you to the White House. We want to honor a true hero, a man who makes us proud of our heritage as Americans, a man who, in life and death, helped keep America free. I speak of Corporal Freddie Stowers, to whom posthumously we present our highest military award for valor: the Medal of Honor. It's an award for bravery and conscience, the compendium we call character.

Today, Corporal Freddie Stowers becomes the first black soldier honored with the Medal of Honor from World War I. He sought and helped achieve the triumph of right over wrong. He showed, as this year has proved again, that an inspired human heart can surmount bayonets and barbed wire.

Seventy-three years ago, the Corporal first was recommended for a Medal of Honor, but his award was not acted upon. In 1987, then-Congressman Joe DioGuardi and my friend the late Mickey Leland, known to many here, from Houston, discovered the Stowers case while conducting other research. And the Army took up the case. And last November, the Secretaries of the Army and Defense recommended that Corporal Stowers receive the Medal of Honor. I heard his story, accepted their recommendation enthusiastically.

It's been said that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge. On September 28th, 1918, Corporal Freddie Stowers stood poised on the edge of such a challenge and summoned his mettle and his courage.

He and the men of Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, began their attack on Hill 188 in the Champagne Marne Sector of France. Only a few minutes after the fighting began, the enemy stopped firing and enemy troops climbed out of their trenches onto the parapets of the trench, held up their arms and seemed to surrender. The relieved American forces held their fire, stepped out into the open. As our troops moved forward, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and sprayed our men with a vicious stream of machine gun and mortar fire. The assault annihilated well over 50 percent of Company C.

And in the midst of this bloody chaos, Corporal Stowers took charge and bravely led his men forward, destroying their foes. Although he was mortally wounded during the attack, Freddie Stowers continued to press forward urging his men on until he died.

On that September day, Corporal Stowers was alone, far from family and home. He had to be scared; his friends died at his side. But he vanquished his fear and fought not for glory but for a cause larger than himself: the cause of liberty.

Today, as we pay tribute to this great soldier, our thoughts continue to be with the men and women of all our wars who valiantly carried the banner of freedom into battle. They, too, know America would not be the land of the free, if it were not also the home of the brave.

The soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coastguardsmen of Desert Storm -- a group that includes Staff Sergeant Warren -- all these valiant Americans are heirs to the legacy of Corporal Stowers and the men of Company C. No nation could be more proud of its sons and daughters than we are of them.

Today, we celebrate their achievements, but we also heed these words echoing over the centuries: Only the dead have seen the end of war. We owe it to Freddie Stowers and those who revere his legacy to defend the principles for which he died and for which our great country stands.

In that spirit, I am honored to welcome two of his sisters -- Georgiana Palmer, of Richmond, California, and Mary Bowens, of Greenville, South Carolina. They will accept the award on behalf of their late brother, the text of which I will now ask Sergeant Major Byrne to read the citation.

[At this point, the citation was read.]

I think that concludes the service, but I'd like to ask the Vice President and Secretary of Defense and General Vuono and General Powell to come up and thank our recipients. And maybe the other members of the Joint Chiefs would join us. I think it would be most appropriate.

Note: The President spoke at 3:08 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn; Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; Gen. Carl E. Vuono, Army Chief of Staff; former Representatives Joseph J. DioGuardi and Mickey Leland; Georgiana Palmer and Mary Bowen, sisters of Corporal Stowers, and S. Sgt. Douglas Warren and T. Sgt. Odis Stowers, his great-grandnephews; Secretary of the Army Michael P.W. Stone; Sean Byrne, Army Aide to the President; and Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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