View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 11, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        AT WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL
                        GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY

                             National Mall
                            Washington. D.C.

2:22 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Secretary Cohen, thank you for your service. To the other members of the Cabinet and the administration, I thank you. General Woerner, thank you for your lifetime of service and your leadership of our Battlefield Monuments Commission. Ambassador Williams, thank you, and all the members of the World War II Memorial Committee. Archbishop Hannon, thank you for your prayers and your leadership in the war.

And to Captain Luther Smith of the Tuskegee Airmen -- he and told you his story, but I can't help noting that in telling you his story he was rather like a lot of World War II veterans, he left out a few things. He left out the Distinguished Flying Cross, seven air medals, the Purple Heart, and a POW medal. Like many of our soldiers in World War II, his bravery went unmentioned, but we are, nonetheless, profoundly grateful for it. (Applause.)

I'd like to thank Fred Smith, my friend of many years, for stepping up and helping to raise all this money. And also, my friend, Tom Hanks, who played Captain John Miller in "Saving Private Ryan," and is now making sure that America never forgets all the Private Ryans. We are grateful for him, as well. (Applause.)

I thank Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, who recognized the vision of her constituent, Roger Durbin, introduced this legislation and has fought for it ever since. I can tell you as someone who has dealt with her for eight years, there is no more determined person in the United States Congress. I am only amazed that this memorial was not built in 1988, since she got behind it. Thank you, Marcy Kaptur, for what you are doing. (Applause.)

I thank the members of Congress who are here. Senator Thurmond once told me that he was the oldest man who took a glider into Normandy. I don't know what that means, 56 years later, but I'm grateful for all of the members of Congress, beginning with Senator Thurmond and all the others who are here, who never stopped serving their country.

But most of all, I want to say a thank-you to Bob Dole, and to Elizabeth for their service to America. (Applause.) As my tenure as President draws to a close, I have had, as you might imagine, an up and down relationship with Senator Dole. But I liked even the bad days. I always admired him. I was always profoundly grateful for his courage and heroism in war and 50 years of service in peace. After a rich and long life, he could well have done something else with his time in these last few years, but he has passionately worked for this day. And I am profoundly grateful. (Applause.)

I also want to thank the men and women and boys and girls all across our country who participated in this fundraising drive, taking this memorial from dream to reality. Their stories are eloquent testimony to its meaning. As Senator Dole and I were sitting up here watching the program unfold today, he told me an amazing story. He said, one day a man from eastern Pennsylvania called our office. He was a 73-year-old Armenian American, named Sarcus Secopias (phonetic). And he said, I'd like to make a contribution to this memorial; where do I mail my check? So he was given the address, and shortly after, this man's -- who was grateful for the opportunities America has given him -- check arrived in the office -- a check for $1 million. (Applause.)

But there were all the other checks, as well, amounting to $140 million in private contributions. There were contributions from those still too young to serve; indeed, far too young to remember the war. More than 1,100 schools across our nation have raised money for the memorial by collecting cans, holding bake sales, putting on dances.

Let me just tell you about one of them, Milwaukee High School in Milwaukee, Oregon. Five years ago, a teacher named Ken Buckles wanted to pay tribute to the World War II veterans. He and his students searched out local veterans and invited them to school for a living history day. Earlier this week, Living History Day 2000 honored more than 3,000 veterans, with a recreated USO show that filled the pro basketball arena. Last year's event raised $10,000 for the memorial, and students think that this year they'll raise even more.

Now, what makes those kids fund-raise and organize and practice for weeks on end? Many have grandparents and other relatives who fought in the war. But there must be more to it than that. They learned from their families and teachers that the good life they enjoy as Americans was made possible by the sacrifices of others more than a half-century ago. And maybe most important, they want us to know something positive about their own generation, as well, and their desire to stand for something greater than themselves.

They didn't have the money to fly out here today, but let's all of us send a loud thank-you to the kids at Milwaukee High School and their teacher, Ken Buckles, and all the other young people who have supported this cause. (Applause.)

The ground we break today is not only a timeless tribute to the bravery and honor of one generation, but a challenge to every generation that follows. This memorial is built not only for the children whose grandparents served in the war, but for the children who will visit this place a century from now, asking questions about America's great victory for freedom.

With this memorial we secure the memory of 16 million Americans, men and women who took up arms in the greatest struggle humanity has ever known. We hallow the ground for more than 400,000 who never came home. We acknowledge a debt that can never be repaid.

We acknowledge, as well, the men and women and children of the homefront, who tended the factories and nourished the faith that made victory possible; remember those who fought faithfully and bravely for freedom, even as their own full humanity was under assault -- African Americans who had to fight for the right to fight for our country; Japanese Americans who served bravely under a cloud of unjust suspicion; Native American code talkers who helped to win the war in the Pacific; women who took on new roles in the military and at home -- remember how, in the heat of battle, and the necessity of the moment, all of these folks moved closer to being simply Americans.

And we remember how after World War II those who won the war on foreign battlefields dug deep and gave even more to win the peace here at home, to give us a new era of prosperity, to lay the foundation for a new global society and economy, by turning old adversaries into new allies, by launching a movement for social justice that still lifts millions of Americans into dignity and opportunity.

I would like to say once more before I go to the veterans here today what I said in Normandy in 1994. Because of you, my generation and those who have followed live in a time of unequaled peace and prosperity. We are the children of your sacrifice, and we thank you forever. (Applause.)

But now, as then, progress is not inevitable, it requires eternal vigilance and sacrifice. Earlier today, at the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, we paid tribute to the fallen heroes of the United States Ship Cole, three of whom have recently been buried at Arlington. The Captain of the ship and 20 of the crew members were there today. We honor them.

Next week I will go to Vietnam, to honor the men and women America lost there, to stand with those still seeking a full accounting of the missing. But at the same time, I want to give support to Vietnamese and Americans who are working together to build a better future in Vietnam, under the leadership of former Congressman and former Vietnam POW Pete Peterson, who has reminded us that we can do nothing about the past, but we can always change the future. That's what all of you did after the war, with Germans, Italians and Japanese. You built the world we love and enjoy today.

The wisdom this monument will give us is to learn from the past and look to the future. May the light of freedom that will stand at the center of this memorial inspire every person who sees it to keep the flame of freedom forever burning in the eyes of our children, and to keep the memory of the greatest generation warm in the hearts of every new generation of Americans.

Thank you and God bless America. (Applause.)

END 2:35 P.M. EST