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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks to Armed Forces Personnel at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska


Thank you very much, Governor Steve Cowper and Senator Murkowski; my friend, Congressman Don Young; and Lieutenant General McInerney; and all the citizens of Alaska; all the men and women of the Armed Forces in Alaska. Thank you for this wonderful turnout.

As I climbed off the airplane, I was thinking of the Inaugural Address of President William Henry Harrison. I believe it was he who spoke for 3/2\ hours, or close to it, caught pneumonia, and died some 30 days later. [Laughter] I will be brief. [Laughter] But I am pleased to have this opportunity, however brief, to speak here at Elmendorf to the members of our Armed Forces, their families, and to the people of this great State.

I also want to wish a belated but nevertheless happy birthday to Alaska, this great land. What you have accomplished in your 30 years of statehood is something all Alaskans can be proud of. I thank all of you again for this very warm greeting here at Elmendorf. Elmendorf has long served as the departure point for Presidents en route to the Far East. And I want it to serve as an arrival point for a President to come fishing in this great State. But as I make my first journey to Asia as President of the United States, I'm especially pleased to draw on this fantastic support and your obvious good wishes. My only regret is that I will not have an opportunity, at least on this trip, to see Alaska in all its glory. After all, there's nothing quite like the ``Fur Rondy.''

I know that it's been a bitter winter, even by Alaskan standards. As one Alaskan put it, ``It's not too bad at 45 below, but 60 below takes it out of a fellow.'' [Laughter] I'll take his word for it. But from what I've heard, any battle between Alaskans and the elements is no contest. The cold is no match for the vibrant sense of community that all Alaskans share. We often think of frontier values, you know, as being summed up in the phrase ``rugged individualism.'' Now, I'm sure Alaskans possess plenty of both. But the real frontier creed, as all of you know, is the community, and that is the key. And whether it's the Alaskan Native or the families whose forebears came here generations ago or the last-arriving newcomer from the lower 48, you stand ready to welcome all into the family of Alaskans. Adverse conditions bring out the best in Alaskans. When the temperature drops, you close ranks, pull together, pitch in; and that's the American spirit at its very best, and it's an inspiration to us all.

In the minds of most Americans, Alaska is our last frontier -- vast, untamed, with plenty of room for opportunity and optimism. And at the same time, Alaska is a vital source of energy for the Nation as a whole. Alaska's abundant resources -- in all their diversity -- are, indeed, a sacred trust. But I am convinced that our natural resources can be developed without spoiling our environment. The plan to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge meets these twin objectives. And I know, as a businessman formerly and now as President of the United States, that we can and must develop our energy resources for the sake of economic development and particularly for the sake of the national security of the United States. There is too much dependence on foreign oil as it is. And as a sportsman, though, with a love and respect for our country's unparalleled natural beauty, I could never support development that failed to provide adequate safeguards for land and wildlife.

And Alaska, so rich in resources, also serves as the gateway to Asia. Let me speak for a moment about this trip I'm about to embark on, our trip to the Far East. I'm here on my way to Japan for the funeral of the late Emperor. It was here, as General McInerney reminded us, here at Elmendorf in Hangar 5, that he became the first Emperor of Japan's long history to set foot outside his homeland 18 years ago.

Alaskans understand that America is as much a Pacific nation as it is an Atlantic one and that the Pacific region is of great and growing importance in international affairs. The timing of my trip is dictated by the passing of the Japanese Emperor, to whom I and other heads of government will pay our final respects. It is, as well, a measure of our respect for a valued ally and a fellow democracy that I make this trip.

In China, then, I hope to build on the friendly and stable and enduring relationship that now exists. This will be my fifth trip back since Barbara and I left there in 1975 and her sixth trip back to China since we left, that long ago. And there's something more than symbolism. That relationship is fundamental in any foreign policy equation of the United States. We don't want to take our friends for granted -- be they Japan, be they China, be they Korea -- as we wrestle with the problems that face our new Secretary of State [James A. Baker III] and General Scowcroft [Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs], who's here with me today, and this President. We wrestle with the troubled areas of the Middle East, the East-West relations -- what's going to happen in Europe, how do we handle matters south of the Rio Grande? These are important policy decisions we'll be facing, important areas. But we don't ever want to neglect our friends.

And, yes, things in the Pacific seem to be going reasonably well. But we are a Pacific power, and this visit will demonstrate that we tend to stay a Pacific power. In Korea, I'll meet leaders of a nation that is rapidly joining the ranks of the world's first-tier economies, and one where democratic institutions are gaining strength each day. And at each stop, I aim to strengthen key relationships with our friends and partners in the Pacific regions.

And finally, a word to the airmen and their families who serve here at Elmendorf, the soldiers and their families who are here today from Fort Rich. As I look around this crowd -- I'm probably leaving some people out -- but let me put it this way to all the members of the Armed Services: Your service and sacrifice deserve special notice. And from this President who proudly served in the Armed Forces for several years -- many, many years ago, I will admit -- I know that your duty is demanding. But I also know that the reward is great -- the respect and the gratitude of your country.

And make no mistake about the importance of your task. Alaska's strategic position, at the point where the Far East and the Western Hemisphere and the Arctic meet, is proof enough that the missions you perform here are vital to our national security. You're the forward edge, the cutting edge, if you will, of our national defense. And we rely on you to keep the watch and to hold the line. And your dedication and your vigilance and your sense of duty help our nation remain safe and secure. As your Commander in Chief, I salute you. And rest assured that I will do everything in my power to see that the United States continues to prosper, continues to remain strong, continues to remain free and at peace. Thank you all, each and every one, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:47 a.m. in Hangar 5 at the base. In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Commander of the Alaska Air Command. Following his remarks, the President and Mrs. Bush traveled to Tokyo, Japan.

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