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Public Papers - 1993 - January

Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to President Ronald Reagan


President Reagan, you can see from that welcome how we all feel about your and Nancy's return to this house that you graced. We're delighted to welcome you back here. And of course, I want to send my special greetings to those who served in the Reagan Cabinet and to the Reagan family. And it's a pleasure to welcome all of you back here to the White House.

Being President has its privileges. And this morning I have the privilege to present America's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with distinction, to my predecessor, the 40th President of the United States. Today we honor the American life of an American original. We all remember the movie in which he once said, ``Win one for the Gipper.'' Well, as President, Ronald Reagan helped win one for freedom, both at home and abroad. And I consider him my friend and mentor, and so he is. And he's also a true American hero.

Just think of the whistlestops that ring unsummoned, like a postcard from the past: Dixon, Tampico, Eureka College, WHO radio in Des Moines. Always Ronald Reagan embodied the heart of the American people. And once he described it as ``hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair.''

Ronald Reagan didn't just make the world believe in America; he made Americans believe in themselves. And I remember Inauguration Day in 1981 and how the clouds -- maybe you remember it -- of a gloomy morning gave way as he began his speech. He turned that winter of discontent into a springtime of possibility.

President Reagan believed in the American people, so he helped the private sector create 19 million new jobs. He knew that Government was too big and spent too much, and so he lowered taxes and spending, cut redtape, and began a peacetime boom, the longest in American history.

Some men reflect their times. Ronald Reagan changed his times. And nowhere was that more true than abroad where he championed the holy grail of liberty. Mr. President, you helped make ours not only a safer but far better world in which to live. And you yourself said it best. In fact, you saw it coming. We recall your stirring words to the British Parliament. Here were the words: ``the march of freedom and democracy . . . will leave Marxist-Leninism on the ashheap of history.''

Few people believe more in liberty's inevitable triumph than Ronald Reagan. None, none was more a prophet in his time. Ronald Reagan rebuilt our military; not only that, he restored its morale. And when I became President, President Reagan passed on to me the most dedicated and best equipped fighting force that the world has ever seen.

He signed also the INF treaty, the first agreement to eliminate a whole category of nuclear weapons. And it was a treaty that lay the foundation then for START I and the historic START II agreement that President Yeltsin and I signed 2 weeks ago.

Ronald Reagan sought a world where nations could talk, not die, over differences and a world of prosperity, peaceful competition, and freedom without war. And he helped achieve it, helped end the cold war.

When Ronald Reagan's favorite President died in 1945, the New York Times wrote, ``Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House.'' Well, Mr. President, it will not take a hundred years; millions thank God today that you were in the White House.

You loved America, blessed America, and with your leadership certainly helped make America that shining city on a hill. All this explains why today Ronald Reagan becomes only the third President to receive the Medal of Freedom, the first to receive it in his own lifetime. He's a man whose life embodies freedom, who nurtured freedom as few Presidents ever have.

And so now, Mr. President, let me invite you, sir, to join me as Major Wissler reads the citation for the Medal of Freedom. Please come up.

Note: The President spoke at 10:20 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. Maj. John Wissler, USMC, was Marine Corps Aide to the President.

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