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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks at a Memorial Service in Arlington, Virginia, for Those Who Died in the Persian Gulf Conflict

1991-06-08

We meet today to remember the men and women who gave their lives to their nation and to the ideal of freedom during Operation Desert Storm. All across our land people celebrate our victory in that war, and there's a new and wonderful feeling in America. Later today -- they're already started -- crowds will gather to watch troops march triumphantly from Washington to the Pentagon in a grand parade. But war also deserves quiet, sober remembrance. And here in this quiet place we can offer humble homage to young people who last summer answered their country's call and never returned.

I think we all admire this place, its sloping hills and grasses and the trees -- no hype. Heard a bird sing a minute ago. We confront mysteries here. We celebrate the fact that each person we commemorate today gave up life for principles larger than each of us, principles that at the same time form the muscle and strength of our national heart.

Dwight Eisenhower once spoke of the most ennobling virtues of man: faith, courage, fortitude, and sacrifice. He knew that America grew out of brave men's dreams of a commonwealth of freedom, of virtue. He knew that America endures because it dares to defend that dream. That dream links the fields of Flanders and the cliffs of Normandy, Korea's snow-covered uplands and the rice paddies of the Mekong. It's lived in the last year on barren desert flats, on sea-tossed ships, in jets streaking miles above hostile terrain. It lives because we dared risk our most precious asset -- our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives -- the finest troops any country has ever had.

The heroes of Desert Storm and Desert Shield came from all across this country: towns of Mississippi, tenements of New York, the plains of America's giant, sprawling checkerboard that is our country. They were rural and urban; they were native, they were foreign-born; black and white, red and brown; privileged and poor. And they were our best.

Far away they battled the inner enemy of fear and won. And then they set an embattled nation free. And they went to the Gulf not because it was the expedient way but because it was the American way. Through their sacrifice as they caused brutal aggression to fall, they renewed our faith in ourselves.

From the time Operation Desert Shield began, a sacred bond grew up between Americans here at home and those that were serving in the Gulf. Just think of the yellow ribbons that joined this nation's hands and souls. Think of how the American family has perhaps never been more united. We prayed for the heroes of the Gulf and for the unsung heroes, the military families. There have been no parades for them, nor will they be immortalized in statues or monuments. And yet, in little kindnesses and deeds they reached out to each other, neighbor to neighbor, often stranger to stranger. They gave love without strings; in essence, they gave brotherhood.

Each of you helped make the Persian Gulf war an historic war. Spouses, children, parents, friends -- all showing how, as Woodrow Wilson said, ``War is a dramatic symbol of a thousand forms of duty.'' The enemies of peace, the brutal aggressors, could not match the combined prayers of 250 million Americans and the collective courage of half a million troops who knew that aggression must not stand.

Today we commemorate not only history but sacrifice and bravery. So, let me close with a story of how a woman, Debbie Wyatt, returned from naval duty in the Gulf. As her three young children leaped into her arms, crying and hugging her, a reporter asked her if she'd do it again. And she replied simply, ``I'd go back tomorrow if my country called.'' I don't know how anyone can fail to tremble in joy and admiration and awe upon hearing her reply. Answering the call made others free, and answering the call has kept us free. Today we hope that this time was the last time, that we stand prepared to respond again should there ever be a next time. Our goal is real peace -- the triumph of freedom, not merely the absence of war. Our means is the courage and character of the American people.

So, let us remember the heroes of the Gulf, those with us, those who gave their life -- as the sergeant so beautifully sang, ``The Last Full Measure of Devotion'' -- so that mankind will say: Just as they honored America, we honored them with the lives we lead.

God bless them, and may God bless the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 9:38 a.m. in the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. T. Sgt. Thomas Steckhard, USAF, sang ``The Last Full Measure of Devotion'' prior to the President's remarks.

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