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National Archives

Public Papers - 1991

Remarks to the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in Honolulu, Hawaii

1991-12-07

The President. Please be seated, everybody. And, Jerry Glaubitz, thank you, sir. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for your leadership to this wonderful organization.

May I salute Secretary Ed Derwinski, Reverend Morgan, and most of all, fellow veterans.

From this sacred ground near the waters of Pearl Harbor, we remember the moment when the Pacific Ocean erupted in a storm of fire and blood. We remember a morning when America, where some thought isolation meant security, awoke wounded, and reeling, plunged into a desperate fight for world freedom.

I remember the crackle of the radio and the voice of our President. ``We are going to win the war,'' FDR told us, ``and we are going to win the peace that follows.'' We won the war and secured the peace because American men and women responded bravely and instinctively to their Nation's call. Within hours after the cruel surprise attack began, many died, having done what came naturally: They fought for their family and friends, defending the land they loved. They did not set out to become heroes, but they did.

When torpedoes crippled the U.S.S. California's ammunition hoists, Warrant Officer Thomas Reeves stood in a smoke-filled passageway and organized a human supply chain to move the ammunition. He worked with all his might till the smoke overcame him. He died that day aboard California, and he rests today in this cemetery.

During the attack, Chief Boatswain Eddie Hill of the U.S.S. Nevada swam from the dock back out to his ship, ignoring the bombs falling all around him. He, too, died in the attack and rests here.

The Bible says, ``Love is strong as death.'' To die for country, for family: that is the truth whispered by these rows of markers.

I remember Ernie Pyle, and I'll bet everybody behind me and in front of me remembers Ernie Pyle, too. The greatest of war correspondents, he fell to the enemy machinegun fire on Ie Shima. He lies here in this cemetery among the GI's he loved and honored so well. His plain-spoken news dispatches from the front reminded us that behind the battle statistics were true-life stories of how boys became men and men became heroes.

He told us what was happening in the war, how our men were fighting. And by telling the stories of our servicemen to their hometowns and neighborhoods, he helped us understand why we were fighting, how our men at arms defended with all their hearts America's deepest ideals.

Americans did not wage war against nations or races. We fought for freedom and human dignity against the nightmare of totalitarianism. The world must never forget that the dictatorships we fought, the Hitler and Tojo regimes, committed war crimes and atrocities. Our servicemen struggled and sacrificed not only in defense of our free way of life, but also in the hope that the blessings of liberty some day might extend to all peoples.

Our cause was just and honorable, but not every American action was fully fair. This ground embraces many American veterans whose love of country was put to the test unfairly by our own authorities. These and other natural-born American citizens faced wartime internment, and they committed no crime. They were sent to internment camps simply because their ancestors were Japanese. Other Asian-Americans suffered discrimination, and even violence, because they were mistaken for Japanese. And they, too, were innocent victims, who committed no offense.

Here lie valiant servicemen of the 442d Regimental Combat Team and of the Military Intelligence Service, Americans of Japanese ancestry who fought to defeat the Axis in Europe and in the Pacific. Among these, the late Senator Spark Matsunaga, a combat hero and survivor who went on to help lead postwar Hawaii to American statehood.

I remember sharing danger and friendship in these skies and on this ocean. Some of my closest friends, like many people here, your closest friends, never came home. Perhaps because of this experience, I can better understand what you survivors of Pearl Harbor are sensing and feeling here today. As all the veterans here know, when a friend or comrade in arms falls in battle, war grabs a part of your soul.

My roommate aboard the carrier San Jacinto, CVL - 30, was a guy named Jim Wykes. And as we were about to go into combat for the first time, a strike over Wake Island, Jim Wykes and his crew were sent out on a search mission from which they never returned.

Many more from our little torpedo squadron were to give their lives. And the names of many of these, and more than 18,000 other World War II servicemen lost in action in the Pacific, are engraved in the walls of this magnificent memorial.

During every passage of my life, I've often thought of those who never returned. Some left children behind, and today those children, like my own kids, are raising children of their own. And thank God, each surviving generation has honored the memory of our heroes of the Second World War. Each new generation has risen to meet the challenge of winning the peace.

After vanquishing the dictators of Japan and Germany and Italy, America's war generation helped those countries rebuild and grow strong in the exercise of democracy and free enterprise. They affirmed again that our quarrel had not been with races or nations.

The American victors welcomed the new leaders of Japan and Germany and Italy into alliances that won the cold war and helped prevent the third world war. America and our wartime allies joined hands with the liberated peoples of our former foes to create and nurture international organizations aimed at protecting human rights, collective security, and economic growth.

Winning the peace, then as now, demands preparedness. The cause of harmony among nations is not a call for pacifism. We avoided a third world war because we were prepared to defend the free world against aggressors. The Pearl Harbor generation saw its younger brothers go to Korea, its sons to Vietnam to resist communism. Pearl Harbor's grandchildren answered the call to the Persian Gulf to reverse Saddam's aggression against Kuwait.

How fitting it is that this great cemetery holds so many who died for the cause of Korean and Vietnamese freedom. How honored we are to stand on this ground, consecrated with the remains of Marine Lance Corporal Frank Allen of Hawaii, who gave his life just 10 months ago in the battle to free Kuwait.

Every soldier and sailor and airman buried here offered his life so that others might be free. Not one of them died in vain. Our men and women who served in Korea and Vietnam, whose sacrifices too often have been forgotten or even reviled, are nearing their day of greatest vindication. For I have confidence that the tragedy of totalitarianism has entered its final scene everywhere on this Earth.

This morning's sun will course the Pacific skies and illuminate the lands of Asia. And just as certainly, the movement of human freedom will supplant dictatorships that now hold sway in Pyongyang and Rangoon and Hanoi, and yes, in China, too. For a billion yearning men and women, the future means freedom and democracy.

This fair December dawn breaks on a world ready for renewal. A high tide of hope swells for those that are committed to peace and freedom. The nations pushed by tyrants into war against us half a century ago join us today as free and constructive partners in the effort for peace. The Soviet Communists' designs for world domination have collapsed before the free world's resolve.

We've reached this morning because generation after generation of Americans kept faith with our founders and our heroes. From the snows of Valley Forge, to the fiery seas of Midway and Pearl Harbor, to the sands of Iraq and Kuwait, Americans lived and died true to their ideals. They have prepared the way for a world of unprecedented freedom and cooperation. And thank God you Pearl Harbor survivors are here today to see this come to pass.

Today, as we remember the sacrifices of our countrymen, I salute all of you, the survivors of Pearl Harbor. And I ask all Americans to join me in a prayer: Lord, give our rising generations the wisdom to cherish their freedom and security as hard-won treasures. Lord, give them the same courage that pulsed in the blood of their fathers.

May God bless you all, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 6:53 a.m. at the National Cemetery of the Pacific. In his remarks, he referred to Gerald Glaubitz, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association; and Reverend Joseph Morgan, a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

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