THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND SENATOR ROBERT DOLE AT PRESENTATION OF MEDAL OF FREEDOM TO SENATOR DOLE
The East Room
10:33 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, General Woerner, for your kind words and for your fine work. I thank you on behalf of all Americans for all the American Battle Monuments Commission does all around the world to ensure that our fallen heroes receive the honor they deserve.
Mr. Vice President, to the members of the Cabinet, Senator and Mrs. Dole and Robin, Majority Leader Lott and many members of Congress who are here today; to the representatives of the veterans service organizations, the members of the American Battle Monuments Commission, my fellow Americans:
Let me begin by thanking Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Governor Hugh Carey, Commissioner Wheeler, Dr. Williams, my good friend, Jess Hay, and all the members of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the World War II Memorial Advisory Board for their efforts to create the first national memorial to all who served in World War II. I want to congratulate also Professor St. Florian and his team on their design. I have reviewed it and it is very impressive.
The World War II Memorial will commemorate one of the great defining passages in our nation's history. Fittingly, it will be flanked by the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. For if the Revolutionary War marks the birth of our republic, and the Civil War its greatest trial, then surely America's triumph in World War II will forever signal our coming of age. Roused by the threat of tyranny and fascism, provoked by an infamous attack, millions of Americans fought under freedom's flag, carrying it to far-off places whose names still stir our souls.
At home, our nation turned as one to the task of building a mighty arsenal for our democratic warriors. Out of the crucible of global conflict and total war, the greatest struggle humankind has ever known, America emerged as the world's most powerful force for peace and freedom and prosperity. With this memorial we pay lasting homage to the 16 million men and women who took up arms in that battle.
Some of the bravest among them were those who fought for freedom themselves were denied. Earlier this week I had the chance to recognize the extraordinary courage of seven African American soldiers with the nation's highest military honor -- an award that was richly deserved as long as it was overdue. But I say today that we owe them and all the veterans of World War II a debt that can never be fully repaid. As I said, and had the honor to say in Normandy, when they were young they saved the world.
This memorial also quite rightly remembers the heroics and hardships of those on the home front. Many of the families who
started the war with a star in the window ended it with sorrow in their hearts, their loved ones lost forever. But our Americans scrimped and saved, making do with three gallons of gas a week and two pair of shoes a year. With the American Red Cross they worked to tend the wounded and send millions of care packages overseas. They ran the factories -- "manned" in many cases by women -- that churned out the planes, the tanks, the ships that enabled the allies to control the land, the air and the sea.
In war, this generation of heroes summoned the collective resolve to defend our most cherished values and to defeat the most fearsome enemies. In peace they came home and drew on that strength and unity to meet the challenges of a new era. Their leaders did not seek to withdraw from the world, but to build alliances and institutions, to promote our prosperity and to secure our victory in the long Cold War. This memorial will stand as a lasting tribute to what Americans can achieve when they work together.
It is especially appropriate at this time that we also honor the remarkable service of one of our nation's most distinguished World War II veterans who has spent the last 50 years of his life building America and a better world, Senator Bob Dole.
Fifty-one years ago, during a fierce fight in Italy's Po Valley, Second Lieutenant Bob Dole was going to the aid of a fallen comrade when a shell struck him down. He would bear the burden of that terrible injury from that day forward. His recuperation was long and uncertain. Yet Senator Dole turned adversity to advantage and pain to public service, embodying the motto of the state that he loved and went on to serve so well: Ad astra per aspera -- to the stars through difficulties.
Son of the soil, citizen, soldier and legislator, Bob Dole understands the American people, their struggles, their triumphs and their dreams. Through five decades of public service that took him from county attorney to Senate Majority Leader, and the longest serving leader of his party in history, he never forgot his roots in Russell, Kansas. He has stood up for what he believed, championing the interests of his state's hard-working farmers, helping the disabled through leading the way to the Americans with Disabilities Act, extending the Voting Rights Act, playing a key role in the National Commission on Social Security Reform, and always, always supporting the leadership of our country -- first, throughout that long twilight struggle of the Cold War, and now in this new era, reasserting America's indispensable role for peace and freedom, security and prosperity.
In times of conflict and crisis, he has worked to keep America united and strong. In this city often known for taking itself too seriously, we are all better for his fine sense of humor. But our country is better for his courage, his determination, and his willingness to go the long course to lead America.
I am pleased to be able to recognize Bob Dole's record of achievement with the highest honor our nation can bestow on a citizen, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Through it, we honor not just his individual achievement, but his clear embodiment of the common values and beliefs that join us as a people -- values and belief that he has spent his life advancing.
Senator Dole, a grateful nation presents this award, with respect for the example you have set for Americans today and for Americans in generations yet to come.
I now ask the Military Aide to read the citation.
Major, post the orders.
(The citation is read.) (Applause.)
SENATOR DOLE: I, Robert J. Dole -- (laughter and applause) -- do solemnly swear -- sorry, wrong speech -- (laughter). But I had a dream -- (laughter) -- that I would be here this historic week receiving something from the President -- (laughter) -- but I thought it would be the front door key. (Laughter).
Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Vice President, and distinguished guests, no one can claim to be equal to this honor, but I will cherish it as long as I live, because this occasion allows me to honor some others who are more entitled.
And I'm looking at a fellow soldier, Sergeant Carafa (phonetic). He helped me a long time ago. And at every stage of my life, I've been a witness to the greatness of this country. Even playing a small role, I have seen American soldiers bring hope and leave graves in every corner of the world. I have seen this nation overcome Depression and segregation and communism, turning back mortal threats to human freedom. And I have stood in awe of American courage and decency, a virtue so rare in history and so common in this precious place.
I can vividly remember the first time I walked into the Capitol as a member of Congress. It was a honor beyond the dreams of a small town. I felt part of something great and noble. Even playing a small role seemed like a high calling, because America was the hope of history. And I have never questioned that faith in victory or in honest defeat. And the day I left office it was undiminished.
I know there are some who doubt these ideals. And I suspect they are young men and young women who have not been adequately taught them. So let me leave a message to the future. I have found honor in the profession of politics. I have found vitality in the American experiment. Our challenge is not to question American ideals or replace them, but to act worthy of them.
I have been in government at moments when politics was elevated by courage into history -- when the Civil Rights Act was passed; when the Americans With Disabilities became law. No one who took part in those honorable causes can doubt that public service at its best is noble.
The moral challenges of our time can seem less clear, but they still demand conviction and courage and character. They still require young men and women with faith in our process. They still demand idealists captured by the honor and adventure of service. They still demand citizens who accept responsibility and who defy cynicism, affirming the American faith and renewing her hope. They still demand the President and Congress to find real unity in the public good.
If we remember this, then America will always be the country of tomorrow, where every day is a new beginning and every life is an instrument of God's justice.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Clinton, Elizabeth and I join me in wishing you and Mrs. Clinton, Vice President and Mrs. Gore all the best as you embark on your second term. May God bless you and each inhabitant of this house, and may God bless America. (Applause.)
END 10:45 A.M. EST