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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 29, 2000
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT,

                             The East Room

9:55 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, and welcome to the White House. I want to acknowledge especially Secretary Cohen, Secretary West, General Shelton. Chairman Gilman and Senator Lautenberg were here and they had to go back to work. But I know we appreciate their being here -- and their going back to work. (Laughter.) I want to welcome all of the distinguished veterans who are here, especially, and thank General Herrling, particularly. And I'll introduce Senator Dole and Mr. Smith in a moment.

I am very enthusiastic about this project, and I want to thank all of you who have already helped, including the school children who are here and all of you who will help.

One of the great pleasures of being President on warm nights and on the weekends is being able to sit out on the balcony that was built during President Truman's tenure here, and you can look out on the Mall and see the whole history of America, from the Revolutionary War, commemorated in the Washington Monument, to the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. Now there are monuments to World War I, Korea and Vietnam. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. They teach us a lot about our national history and our national character.

You also can see on the Mall the scientific genius of America in the Air and Space Museum, our nation's heritage in the American Natural History Museum. You can see art in the National Gallery and the Hirshhorn. And I can see the Capitol, even on the days where I think they don't hear me down there. (Laughter.)

And yet, the event that speaks most to the courage and character of America is World War II. It defined the 20th century. And until it has a place on our National Mall, the story of America that is told there will be woefully incomplete. This, therefore, in a real sense, is the last campaign of World War II.

Roger Durbin, who began it more than a decade ago, understands -- understood that it's not just about the child that walks the Mall today whose grandfather served in the war; it is, in a larger sense, about the child who walks the Mall in a hundred years, tugging on his or her grandfather's sleeve, asking questions about the monument. That is the special quality of those monuments. It's how we learn from our past. And so there must be a monument so that a hundred years from now those questions will be asked.

Roger Durbin knew that, and I want to thank his granddaughter, Melissa Growden, for being here with us today.

Four and a half years ago, we came together from the Mall to sprinkle soil from America's overseas cemetery, to begin a drive to get this memorial built. I believe today, as I did then, that the site we dedicated is still perfect for the memorial. The distance traveled since is, in itself, a story of national resolve. And there are many people who deserve our gratitude, but I want to recognize just a few this morning.

First, I want to thank General Fred Woerner and Major General John Herrling for the terrific job they're doing at the American Battlefields Monuments Commission. It overseas 24 American military cemeteries and 27 memorials in 15 nations around the world. And I know they are anxious to add the World War II memorial to that list.

When this drive began, we were certain that one person we could count on was Fred Smith, the chairman of Fed-Ex and co-chair of this memorial drive. This isn't the first time he's answered our country's call; he served two tours in Vietnam, and his father and three uncles all served in World War II. And I have known him for many, many years now, because we're from the same neck of the woods.

Fred, I wasn't surprised you agreed to do this, but I was and remain very grateful. And on behalf of all the American people, we thank you for your service. (Applause.)

Last week I had the privilege of presenting the Congressional Medal of Honor to Senator Dan Inouye, and 21 other Asian Americans who served with distinction in World War II. It was an amazing moment. I'm pleased that one of those -- Senator Inouye's fellow Medal of Honor recipient, Nick Oresko, could join us today, as well as the President of the National Medal of Honor Society, Colonel Barney Barnum.

I also want to welcome all the veterans of World War II who are here. And I want to acknowledge the veterans from Congress. As I said, Senator Lautenberg and Congressman Gilman had to go back to work. Congressman Hall, Congressman Hyde, Congressman Regula, Congressman Sisisky, all veterans. And then the former Republican Leader of the House, Congressman Bob Michel, is still here today, and I want to welcome him and thank him. And Senator Harry Byrd, it's nice to see you, sir.

And I'd like to say a special word of thanks to Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, who first recognized the vision of her constituent, Roger Durbin, and introduced the legislation to establish the memorial. I think they're voting on Capitol Hill and she's not able to come. And Senator Sasser, we're glad you're here today, too, and we thank you.

I'd like to thank two people who aren't here, who have been a great deal of help, Tom Brokaw and Tom Hanks, who worked to bring attention to this cause. And their ability to do so, as you know, grows out of one's book and the other's movie, both of which were, I think, very important to increasing the understanding of Americans about the character and courage of those who fought in World War II.

More than 1,900 World War II veterans and their colleagues at Wal-Mart have undertaken a special effort, and I thank them. I understand they're represented here today by veteran Jean DeVault. I want to recognize the men and women, thousands of them, who formed community action councils across the country, represented here today by Viola Lyon and Linda Johnson, from the Quad Cities; Christine Dialectos, from Reading, Pennsylvania; and Deb Ellis, from Littleton, Colorado.

And, finally, I want to say a special thanks to 11-year-old Zane Fayos, from Fayetteville, New York. Last April, he was 10 then, Zane saw Tom Hanks in an ad for the memorial and decided to get involved. He wrote a letter that said he was very interested in World War II, that he was reading books about Normandy and D-Day, that his mother said he could go see, "Saving Private Ryan," when he finished his books; and that he had managed to save $195 in 10 short years, and he wanted to donate the entire amount to building the Memorial. If he is representative of the young people of America, I'd say we're in pretty good hands. I'd like to ask him to stand today. Zane, stand up. (Applause.)

Now, Zane gave everything he had for the memorial. And I know this violates some law the Council's Office gave me, but we still need a little more money. (Laughter.) So somebody else is going to have to give, not everything they have, but a little more, until we get right over the top. And I'm going to help, and any of you in this room who can give us a little more, I'll be grateful to, as well.

I'd like to now introduce someone who has given everything he had for our country: Senator Bob Dole. All of you know that his service in World War II was enough for three lifetimes, and then he gave us the next 50 years, as well.

In 1997, he agreed to lead this campaign, and that was a great blessing for the cause and for the country. Whenever I see Senator Dole, and we share a joke or a story or a common cause, or sometimes a common disagreement, I understand why his generation of Americans has been called the greatest generation.

Ladies and gentlemen, Senator Dole. (Applause.)

SENATOR DOLE: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. Every time I come down here I think about running again. (Laughter.) Most men in their 70s now consider themselves to be middle-aged, so there's a lot of time left. (Laughter.)

But this is a great honor. And I want to thank the President for his enthusiastic support. I wasn't there when the site was dedicated in 1995, but that was really the beginning. And then I volunteered in '97 -- you learn not to do that in the Army, but I said, well, maybe this won't take long. And now, here we are, some three years later.

But we're just about there. And I don't have any restrictions on me, I'm a private citizen -- and we do need more money. And if we could get it here this morning, it would sure lift a burden from our shoulders. It's only $8 million. So in any event -- (laughter) -- we're just about there.

And obviously, there are just dozens and dozens of people who have made this possible everywhere. And Marcy Kaptur has already been mentioned. She introduced the legislation that started all this a long time ago. And it all happened because a fellow named Roger Durbin, who was a World War II vet, saw her one day at a picnic I think somewhere in Ohio, and said, why don't we have a World War II memorial. Well, come to think of it, we didn't have a World War II memorial. And this sort of started it all.

And again I would make it very clear, this is not a memorial for those of us who served in World War II. We've gone from over 16 million to under 6 million, and we lose about a thousand a day. And of course, that's going to double as you get into the 80s -- from the 70s to the 80s. And so it's not for us. We've already -- 10 million have already passed on.

But we believe it's important, as the President indicated, that 10 years from now or 100 years from now, or 25 or 50 years from now, that whoever may be there, whoever may be looking at the memorial and wondering what's this all about, what was World War II all about, they will understand one basic thing -- that sometimes some generation may be called upon to make a sacrifice. It might be your life, it might be risking your life, it might be a life of disability, it might be any of those. But it's important because we preserved liberty and freedom in the process, and every country in the world looks to us when it comes to democracy and freedom and liberty. And that's why I think this is so important.

The President has already singled out -- when you start singling out people who have done a great job, you're going to forget someone. But I know a good Democrat down in Texas named Jess Hay who has been very, very helpful -- Jess. You really know how to do it. I wish you were in the other party, but in any event -- (laughter) -- you've done a great job for us. And I know the President appreciates, and I appreciate it.

And Herman Harrington, of the American Legion, they've done a lot of fundraising for us. Andrew Kidd of the DAV; John Smart of the VFW. We've had over 450 veteran groups who have raised $11 million. Ambassador Hayden Williams has done great work and helped us with the design. Hugh Shelton, Togo West, we appreciate your help. Obviously, my good friend, the Secretary of Defense, Bill Cohen. And we've had one man in this audience, and his name is Ralph Jeurgen (phonetic), who traveled from his home in Lake Geneva in his motorized wheelchair, sponsored by the American Legion, raised $4,000 for the memorial. Ralph, where are you right now? Here he is, right here. (Applause.)

I was present the day -- a week ago yesterday -- at this magnificent ceremony where Dan Inouye and six others who are still living received the Medal of Honor, and the President honored 15 others posthumously. And I was particularly interested in Dan Inouye because we both were in Italy. We were wounded a week apart and a hill apart, and ended up in the same hospital -- Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, where we were patients for some time.

And Dan Inouye, to me, epitomizes what it's all about, even though all the discrimination at that time against -- the President pointed out in the ceremony -- against Japanese Americans. In the hospital, we were just patients. We all had pajamas, we didn't know whether we were privates or lieutenants or generals. And one of the greatest men I ever met in my life was a fellow named Colonel Phil Hart, who later became a United States senator from the state of Michigan, who ran errands for all of us who were bedfast; who provided baseball tickets -- Detroit Tigers -- the Briggs family owned the Detroit Tigers then; his wife was a Briggs.

And so I guess the point is that when you see someone like Dan Inouye and others who have made that sacrifice -- and Bob Michel just met a fellow at the reception; they were in the same area at the Battle of the Bulge, and they had a great chance to reminisce.

Last Saturday I traveled to Pascagoula, Mississippi -- we don't have any oceans in Kansas, and I've never been at a christening, so I was asked to participate at a ship christening. And everybody may know Admiral John Bulkley (phonetic), who served 55 years -- I know the Secretary knows about him -- Medal of Honor winner, served 55 years. And this destroyer was being named -- or will be the USS Bulkley when it's commissioned. And I think in addition to just having his name, it sort of brandishes the spirit of an entire generation of Americans. His daughters were there, his wife was there.

And so, Mr. President, I think a lot of us think a lot about the World War II generation, particularly if you were a part of it -- and if you happen to be chairman of the World War II memorial effort. But we look back at the critical moments of the century just past, we sort of mark our achievements to understand where we have come, and even at times reflect upon what we might have missed. And this is part of the process of living up to the remarkable promise of America. And I think that's what the World War II memorial is all about.

I think we could say as veterans -- our experience is varied -- we've reached the age now where we can almost say anything and nobody is around to dispute it. (Laughter.) So we can tell these great stories about what we didn't do, and it's "oh, is that true?" And I say, well, you could check it with so-and-so, but he passed on. (Laughter.)

So whether we were called to serve or volunteered, I think we thought we wore -- we did wear the uniform with pride and honor. And I want to make it very clear, this is a memorial to all Americans at that time -- the farmers, the teachers, the preachers, everyone. Not everybody can wear a uniform. If they hadn't stayed on the farm or in the school or in the shops, they couldn't have supplied us wherever we might have been, scattered around the world.

And the most -- I think it's the most significant event of the 20th century. And had we not prevailed, I'm not certain where we'd be today, Mr. President. The White House is a symbol of democracy. Would we be standing here? Probably not. Would someone else be telling us where to stand and what to say and what to do? Probably so.

And that's the importance, as I view it, of this generation that Tom Brokaw has written about, and also has been very helpful in our fundraising; and that Tom Hanks has talked about in the public service announcement. He's also has been very helpful, as the President noted.

So I think -- I hope that future generations will define our legacy in terms of honor, and selflessness and faith. We were all Depression kids, and many of us didn't have much when we were growing up. But I think there was an understanding of basic honor, and we knew what had to be done. We knew what happened at Pearl Harbor, we knew it had to be addressed. And whatever happened, it was done.

My hero is General Eisenhower. We all had heroes. I remember the D-Day. I've read the books, as I know the President has, I know Fred Smith and others have. I remember the weather was lousy. I remember he had to make a decision, and he knew when he made that decision, it was a death sentence for thousands of young men, and maybe a life of disability for thousands more. But he made the decision. First he prayed he'd make the right decision. Then after he made the decision, he prayed he had made the right decision. And the rest is history. The rest is history, and we prevailed. And I think it changed the world.

And then we all came back to the G.I. Bill. And I don't know how many in this -- how many in this audience went to school on the G.I. Bill? Probably wouldn't have had enough money otherwise to attend college. But it changed America, I think, and it changed the world -- that one little piece of legislation.

And finally, I've learned a lot from the fundraising experience. When told no by CEOs because the memorial did not fit their corporate guidelines, I've been tempted to say, well, World War II didn't fit our guidelines, either. (Laughter.) But we served and we prevailed, and because of it, your company is free and prosperous. I haven't said that yet; I've thought about it a few times. (Laughter.) And we thank the contributors, large and small. I wonder if -- all the young people stand up, all the school kids stand up -- you're from Maryland and Wisconsin and all across America. (Applause.)

And again, we just had -- well, we've had 386,000 individual contributors. The President mentioned Wal-Mart. They have 3,000 stores. They've turned these veterans loose in these stores; they raised $13.5 million, and then they put in a million. So that was a nice check to get, $14.5 million. SBC -- you know, just $3 million -- yes, where is Ed? Oh, there's Ed right there. He knows where Kansas is. (Laughter.)

And Fed-Ex, $2 million, the Lilly Endowment. I mean, we just had a lot of good effort. And as I said, we've had the young people. I went out to Greenbelt, Maryland, to participate in an event where they had raised 132,000 pennies. Fortunately, they had them all wrapped before I got there. (Laughter.) And they're here today with their teachers and the principal. And I think it's very important.

There's a group here from California who finished second in the nation because they learned more about World War II and Midway and things of that kind. And we've had some good news this morning -- Jack Valenti has indicated to both me and the President that he would be willing to help us in the Hollywood area. They've been a little short, frankly, and I've changed my remarks here since that good news came in. (Laughter and applause.)

But I want to mention Tom Hanks, too. Again, he's -- his father was in the Navy. I remember Fred and I got all boned up, we had all this stuff we were going to tell him on why he ought to do this. We got him on the phone, he said, "I'm your man; what do you want me to do?" That was the end of the conversation. (Laughter.) And he's been very, very helpful.

So we all look forward to the day we don't have any more war veterans. But if history repeats itself, then there will come a day when many of our young men and women will be called upon to serve and sacrifice. And although our prayers ask for peace, history teaches us that freedom is not free. It must be earned and it must be protected from those who would conquer and oppress. And when people visit the memorial years from now, we hope they will walk away with a clear understanding that at critical times, Americans may be called upon to make a sacrifice, as I said earlier, to preserve liberty and freedom.

And they will, as always, be ordinary people who do extraordinary things during times of great peril. And again, I want to thank the President for his steadfast support of our efforts, and we will have a groundbreaking on November 10th this year, the day before Veterans' Day, so we'll see -- all of you will be there.

And my honor now is to introduce the cochair of the memorial campaign. President Clinton said it all. I mean, here's -- I remember going to his hotel room. I heard he was in town and I needed some help in the corporate sector. And again, he had been fairly active, as Jan Scruggs knows, in the Vietnam Memorial, and I really -- didn't really feel right about asking Mr. Smith to do this, but again, I think the conversation lasted about two minutes. He said, "yes," and I said, "good-bye," and he's been helping opening corporate doors ever since.

And we would not have had the success we've had to date if it hadn't been for Fred Smith. And let me say this in a very positive way. We're just about finished. We've done good work. General Herrling, Jim Ayleward (phonetic) sort of direct all this -- others, got a good staff. We've all sort of worked together. We've had -- many states have given us a dollar for each veteran who served in that particular state, and we have 38 states who have already contributed a dollar each, and so it's been a good effort.

So we want to thank everyone -- all of you for coming, all of you who have participated in every way that you have, in any way that you have. And now, I give you my co-chairman, Fred Smith. (Applause.)

MR. SMITH: Thank you very much. My remarks will be very brief, because I think the President and Senator Dole have really said it all. We're on the threshold now of achieving our goal of raising $100 million to build a World War II memorial. In fact, we've raised $92 million.

As the President mentioned, I had a number of people in my family that were in World War II, and so it was an easy decision, as Senator Dole related to you a moment ago, to say I would be happy to help in this effort. And it has been a labor of love, I can tell you that.

It is a shame, as I'm sure all of you agree, that we do not have a memorial to represent the tremendous sacrifices represented by Senator Dole and the other World War II veterans, and the home front participants in World War II. I don't think anyone can imagine the grievous consequences that would have occurred had Senator Dole and his fellow veterans not been successful in the allied cause.

And I think it's very easy to get caught up on our day-to-day activities, including raising money for the memorial, and briefly lose sight of the mission. We're simply here to say thank you to the people that have made the tremendous sacrifices, like Senator Dole and Senator Inouye and others.

And, of course, during the war, American business pitched in to create, as it was called, the "arsenal of democracy." So to me, it seemed highly appropriate that the corporate community, which has benefited so much from this tremendous sacrifice, should help in this effort. And in fact, it has, generously. As the Senator mentioned a moment ago, SBC was one of our lead contributors. Anhauser-Busch, Kodak, AIG -- Hank Greenberg, it took him about 15 seconds to make a seven-figure contribution. He had been a young ranger on D-Day. My old associate, Chris Kastockis (phonetic), a distinguished paratrooper veteran of Vietnam, about a minute into the conversation gave us a major gift.

Wal-Mart, as is typical of Wal-Mart, went beyond anybody's expectations and has, as a corporation, through its associates and through its customers, has raised over $13 million. In fact, I think it's coming close to $14 million. Super 8 Motels, 400,000 individual Americans, foundations led by the Lilly Endowment and three others, have given us $1 million or more. The National Funeral Directors has organized a local-member grass-roots organization. The Elks, the Daughters of the American Revolution. That will just give you some idea of the scope of this fundraising effort.

And as you know, we had in our military during World War II, young people from Alaska to Florida, and California to Maine. And just as that generation represented our country so ably in World War II, there have been more than 400 grass-root volunteer agencies, and more than 60 community action councils raising donations across the country. A special thanks in that regard goes to Viola Lyon and Linda Johnson from the Quad Cities, in Illinois and Iowa; Christine Dialectos from Reading, Pennsylvania; and Deb Ellis from Littleton, Colorado, who I had the pleasure to visit with during the breakfast. All of them represent these types of grass-roots organizations that have contributed so much.

To me, one of the more delightful aspects of this fundraising campaign has been the school children. We have a group of beautiful children here from Memphis. I had a great time going over one day and seeing their program, Pennies for Patriots, they called it. And they raised thousands of dollars for us in the Memphis city school system. As Milwaukee High School in Oregon has done, represented here today; Fruitvale Junior High in Bakersfield, California, and hundreds of others.

Many of these schools became interested in our campaign because of the fabulous work of our education partner, the History Channel. Through the generous contribution of the History Channel, we distributed World War II educational materials to thousands of teachers worldwide, and they produced a moving one-hour documentary about the memorial. And their educational programs are encouraging our youth to learn about the tremendous war effort and the effects it's had on world history.

Libby O'Connell is here from the History Channel -- where are you, Libby? Thank you so much for your help. It's been stupendous.

So, hopefully, as you can see, from coast to coast, from corporations to classrooms, literally hundreds of thousands of Americans have come together to support this important cause. I'm looking forward to going out to that Los Angeles thing with Jack Valenti, who, by the way, was a World War II B-25 pilot.

It's our hope that all the children in the generations to come will visit this memorial and, if you haven't seen it, I hope you'll visit the model that's out in the reception foyer. You'll see it's going to be a wonderful and exquisite addition to the Nation's Capital.

I hope generation after generation will visit the memorial and get a sense of the sacrifice and accomplishment of the World War II generation -- 400,000 lives lost; many, many thousands more horribly maimed and wounded, like Senator Dole and Senator Inouye -- and that they will take the tremendous pride our country is now showing for their achievement by building this memorial tribute on the center line of our National Mall.

And most importantly, Mr. President, thank you so very much for your help in this regard and hosting this wonderful event. You've always been there for things like this, and you're not letting us down this time. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, ladies and gentlemen, this concludes this formal meeting. I've been listening to Senator Dole and to Fred. I just want to say two or three things.

On the way in, they were playing, "Hail to the Chief," and I leaned over to Bob Dole and I said, you know, when we get out of here, I'd like to make commercials with you -- I'll be your straight man. (Laughter.) It's the only commercial venture I've discussed the whole time I've been President. (Laughter.)

We tried to divide it up so that one of the three of us would mention everybody, but I do want to say again how grateful I am to all of you for being here, especially my friend of nearly 30 years, Jess and Betty Jo Hay. And thank you, Ed. And I thank the Wal-Mart people and all the companies -- the Hank Greenberg Company -- all of them that have given.

Senator Dole said one thing. I don't believe I've ever told this story in public, but I'm going to do this. I want you to know why this is so important to me. Senator Dole said one thing that I think is really true. He said, what would the world be like today if we had not fought and prevailed in World War II. And there are lots of obvious big, geopolitical things you could say. But Senator Dole and Senator Inouye served in Italy, so I want to leave you with this story.

When we were getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and then the end of the war -- and there was a ceremony in Italy, too -- I got hundreds of letters. So one day I get this letter from this guy in New Jersey, with an Italian surname. And he says, dear Mr. President, he said, during World War II, I was an eight-year-old boy living with my mother. And we were starving to death practically, and we didn't know what was going to happen to us. And the American soldiers came.

And, he said, I was fascinated by automobiles, so I used to sneak down to the motor pool, where I met an American who taught me all about engines. And, he said, he also gave me chocolate. Then I would take him home and my mother would make him pasta. And, he said, I decided that I wanted to go to America, and he said, as soon as I was old enough, I came to America and I opened my own garage. I met a wonderful woman, I had a great family, I raised two children, they both have college educations -- all because I met an American soldier in a motor pool. I never knew what happened to the soldier until I read in our local paper a story about your father's experience in World War II, and there was a picture of your father, and I knew that was the man who had helped me. I think he would be very proud of me today.

The consequences of what was done by the World War II generation are being felt today, in ways big and small. A country is known by what it remembers. This is a noble endeavor. A hundred million sounds like a lot of money; it's peanuts. I meant to ask Secretary Cohen before I came up here, but if we had to fight World War II today, it would cost several trillion dollars -- $100 million is nothing. We ought to come up with the rest of the money, a little more if we need it, and do it right. And never forget.

Thank you all. (Applause.)

END 10:30 A.M. EDT