THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT VETERANS DAY BREAKFAST
The East Room
9:00 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Please be seated.
Hillary and I and Secretary Aspin, Secretary Brown are delighted to have you here. We wanted to begin this Veterans Day with the leaders of our veterans organizations, with the officials of the Veterans Administration, with many of our men and women in uniform today, especially those who distinguished themselves in the very difficult firefight in Somalia on October 3rd.
Some of those brave soldiers are here with us today, and I know you've met them, but I'd like to begin by just asking them to stand and be recognized and asking all of us to thank them.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Our nation is very proud of them and their comrades for the bravery they showed on that day and for the work they continue to do.
This is an important Veterans Day, this is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War I, a defining war for our nation when our forebears decided that we could no longer be a totally isolated or isolationist country.
Later this morning, during ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery, I will present a commemorative medal to Mr. Stanley Coolbaugh, a veteran of the first world war who will accept it on behalf of the 30,000 living veterans of World War I. He was born in another century in a relatively young nation protected by vast oceans. He was forced as a young man, along with our nation, to answer a profound question which we still have to ask and answer today: To what extent must America engage with the rest of the world; to what extent can we just stay home and mind our own business?
Sometimes that answer is easy, as it was when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and entered the second world war. And as it became clear at the end of the second world war when we had to try to contain the expansion of communism and engage in the Cold War, an effort which ultimately led to perhaps the greatest peacetime victory in the world -- the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Now today we have to ask some of the hard questions again -- about how much we should engage and whether we can withdraw. Some of those difficult questions are being answered by our men and women in uniform all around the world. Some of them have to be answered by those of us here in Washington on nonmilitary matters. I want to say a special word of thanks in that regard to the American Legion for enforcing the North American Free Trade Agreement. I said the other day to Admiral Crowe, who is here, that I was amazed that there were so many senior military officers who had spontaneously come up to me and said that they favored this treaty. And he and others observed, well, if you go to men in uniform who have been around the world, you know what it means to have the opportunity to live in peace with your two biggest neighbors and to have commerce and friendly cooperation and competition, and what it means to live and grow together. So I thank you all for that.
This is a day when the United States has to reaffirm its commitment to our veterans. On Memorial Day we thank those veterans who have given their lives for our country and their families. Today we thank those veterans who have given their service to our country and who are still here among us and for whom we feel not only great affection, but a profound sense of obligation.
On Memorial Day, I pledged that our government would declassify virtually all the documents related to all individuals held as prisoners of war or missing in action. To help answer questions that have haunted too many families for too long. Some of those questions may never by answered, but we have to try. And I can tell you that as of last night, in keeping with my commitment on Memorial Day to finish this job by Veteran's Day, we have done that. We have declassified all the relevant documents that we can to answer the questions about the MIAs and the POWs.
Secondly, I had the opportunity yesterday to sign a proclamation to honor our women's veterans and National Women's Veterans Recognition Week, and to welcome to the office that I hold now Diane Evans and the board of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project. They presented me with this wonderful replica of the statue being dedicated today to recognize the sacrifices of all the veterans of the Vietnam War, and to further the process of healing and reconciliation.
It is a magnificent work of art, gripping in so many ways. And I know that today's ceremony will grab the attention and the emotions and the convictions of the American people.
Third, I am about to sign into law, an increase in the cost of living allowance for our disabled veterans. With the leadership of relevant chairman in our Congress -- Senator Jay Rockefeller and Congressman Sonny Montgomery -- this new law will help 2.5 million American veterans and their families to keep pace with the rising cost of living.
And finally, as you know, with the leadership of the First Lady and many others, we are doing our best to provide health security to all American people in a way that will improve the access and quality of veterans' health care in America. Of all the plans that have been addressed to deal with the health care problem, ours is the only one that has made a serious effort to address the concerns of our veterans. I'm very proud of that, and I thank all of you who had anything to do with it.
With these actions on this Veterans Day, we continue a contract we can never fulfill to defend our nations security, to defend the security in the interest of those who have served our nation and made it secure. I know that your service can never be repaid in full, but it can always be honored and must never be forgotten. So today, as I sign this law, let me tell you on behalf of a grateful nation, we honor you, we will not forget you, and we are grateful for the security that you provide for all of us. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.)
END9:07 A.M. EST