Monday, June 7, 1999
Volume 35, Issue 22; ISSN: 0511-4187
Remarks at a Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington, Virginia
William J Clinton
� May 31, 1999
��Thank you very much, Secretary Cohen, for your remarks, your
devotion to your country, and your outstanding leadership. Secretary
West, thank you for your work on behalf of our Nation's veterans.
And to both of you, thank you for your support of the recent actions
improve their quality of life, to improve the retirement systems of
the veterans and their readiness.
� General Ivany, thank you for your remarks, your example, and your
leadership. Colonel Brogan, thank you for your prayers.
Superintendent Metzler, thank you for doing such a magnificent job
of maintaining Arlington National Cemetery, in honor of those who
are buried here and as a tribute to all America stands for. I thank
the members of the Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs, Congress, the
diplomatic corps, the armed services who are here. I welcome the
veterans and the families of veterans and members of the armed
services, my fellow citizens.
� I'd like to begin by asking that we all join in expressing our
thanks to the Air Force Band and the Singing Sergeants for doing
such a fine job here today-[applause]-they deserve it. Thank you.
� Even though the day is bright and warm I ask you to indulge me, to
spend a few extra moments to think about what it means that we here
today mark the final Memorial Day of this century. To be sure, it
gentle hills, marking America's sacrifices for freedom for over 100
years, in two World Wars and many other conflicts. Again and again,
America has been tested in the 20th century, coming through it all,
down to the present day, with even greater blessings of liberty and
prosperity, with our enduring optimism and steady faith in our
� Thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, our Nation has never
been more secure. Thanks to them, the cold war is now another
chapter in the history books. Thanks to them, nations that fought
two World Wars in Europe and in Asia, some of which had battled each
other for centuries, now cooperate with each other as never before.
� On the eve of a new millennium we can see clearly how closely the
sacrifices of our men and women in uniform in the 20th century are
linked to the yearning for freedom that gave birth to our Nation
over 200 years ago, a yearning based on the then radical premise
that we are all inherently equal, fully able to govern ourselves and
endowed with a God-given right to liberty. That is our history, a
history that beckons us especially on this Memorial Day and
that our country has accepted consistently the old adage that much
is expected from those to whom much is given. From Concord to
Corregidor, from Korea to Khe Sanh, from Kuwait to Kosovo, our
entire history is written in this ground.
� As Secretary Cohen said, only 11 days ago a young man from Ohio,
Chief Warrant Officer David Gibbs, was laid to rest here after his
helicopter crashed in a training exercise on May 5th in Albania.
Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Reichert died in the same crash. We
honor these two brave Americans who gave their lives in service to
our Nation's highest ideals, joining other, more famous names who
did the same. Here lie heroes of war, like John Pershing, George
Marshall, Omar Bradley, President Kennedy; the great explorer Robert
Peary; brave astronauts who gave their lives to increase our
knowledge of the heavens; Medgar Evers, who fought for freedom at
Normandy on D-day and then fought for freedom all over again at the
University of Mississippi; familiar names, like Joe Louis, Justice
Earl Warren, Abner Doubleday, Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy:
all different, all American, all made our presence possible.
must never forget in the context of human history just how quickly
we have come to where we are today. Secretary Cohen quoted another
famous American veteran who is buried here, Justice Oliver Wendell
Holmes. He fought in the Civil War and went on to serve on the
United States Supreme Court until he was 93 years old. A young man
caught him at the age of 90 reading a copy of Plato's "Republic" and
asked whatever in the world he was doing, reading that weighty tome.
And he said, "I am doing this to improve my mind."
� A remarkable man, Justice Holmes. His life shows us how quickly we
have come here. When he was a boy, he shook hands with a veteran of
the American Revolution. As a young man he fought in the Civil War,
where he was visited by President Lincoln. You may know the famous
story that the President was wearing his trademark stovepipe hat,
and he began, because he was so tall, to attract fire from the
Confederate forces, until Holmes shouted, without thinking, these
famous words, "Get down, you fool." [Laughter] Lincoln replied, "I'm
glad you know how to talk to a civilian." [Laughter]
� Justice Holmes lived through World War I and the Depression. He
always remembered what he had done as a young man-that war reminds
us, and I quote, that "our comfortable routine is no eternal
necessity of things." He understood that our freedom had been and
always would be bought by men and women ready to protect it,
sometimes at great cost and peril.
� So we did not become a great nation just because the land was
generous to those who settled it, though it was; just because the
people who came here worked hard and were clever and resourceful,
though surely our forebears were. We became a great nation also
because every time our beliefs and ideals have been threatened,
Americans have stepped forward to defend them. From our biggest
cities to our smallest towns, citizens have done what had to be done
to advance the dream that began on the Fourth of July in 1776-always
following Justice Holmes' famous admonition that we must be involved
in the action and passion of our time, for fear of being judged not
to have lived.
� So my fellow Americans, if today is a day for history, it is also a
day to honor those who lie here and in countless other places all
looking to the future; to rededicate ourselves to another 100 years
of our liberty, our prosperity, our optimism, and our common
� Today, there is a new challenge before us in Kosovo. It is a very
small province in a small country, but it is a big test of what we
believe in: our commitment to leave to our children a world where
people are not uprooted and ravaged and slaughtered en masse because
of their race, their ethnicity, or their religion; our fundamental
interest in building a lasting peace in an undivided and free
Europe, a place which saw two World Wars when that dream failed in
the 20th century; and our interest in preserving our alliance for
freedom and peace with our 18 NATO Allies.
� All of us have seen the hundreds of thousands of innocent men and
women and children driven from their homes, the thousands singled
out for death along the way. We have heard their stories of rape and
oppression, of robbery and looting and brutality. And we saw it all
before, just a few years ago, in Bosnia, for 4 long years, until
NATO acted, combining with the resistance of Bosnians and Croatians,
� How did this all happen? Well, 10 years ago the Berlin Wall fell,
ending communism's cruel and arbitrary division of Europe,
unleashing the energies of freedomloving people there, after two
World Wars and the cold war, to be united in peace and freedom and
prosperity. But that same year in Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic became
the last holdout against a Europe free, united, and at peace, when
he stripped away the rights of the Kosovars to govern themselves. He
then went to war against the Croatians and the Bosnians. And in the
wake of that, after 4 years, a quarter of a million people were
dead, 21/2 million people were refugees, many of them still have not
gone home. There was a stunning record of destruction, told not only
in lives but in religious, cultural, historical, and personal
buildings and records destroyed in an attempt to erase the existence
of a people on their land.
� In Kosovo we see some parallels to World War II, for the Government
of Serbia, like that of Nazi Germany, rose to power in part by
getting people to look down on people of a given race and ethnicity,
to live. But even more troubling, we see some parallels to the
rumblings all around the world where people continue to fall out
with one another and think they simply cannot share common ground
and a common future with people who worship God in a different way
or have a slightly different heritage.
� Think about the contrast of that to the military we celebrate
today. Every morning on Memorial Day, I have a breakfast for leaders
of the veterans community at the White House. And I stand there with
eager anticipation as people who have fought or whose relatives have
fought and often died in our wars come through the line. I noticed
them today: There were Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans; there
were Arab-Americans and Jewish Americans; there were Catholic
Americans and Protestant Americans; there were African-Americans,
there were Hispanic-Americans, there were Asian-- Americans.
� Just look around here today at the kinds of people who are wearing
the evidence of their service to our country. We are a stronger
country because we respect our differences, and we are united by our
common humanity. Now, we cannot expect everybody to follow our lead,
everybody to get along all the time. But we can say no to ethnic
cleansing. We can say no to mass slaughter of people because of the
way they worship God and because of who their parents were. We can
say no to that, and we should.
� It is important that you know that in Kosovo the world has said no.
It's not just the United States or even just our 18 NATO Allies with
us. People on every continent-- Arabs and Israelis are sending
assistance, Protestants and Catholics from Northern Ireland; Greeks
and Turks; Africans, Asians, Latin Americans; even those whose own
lives have been battered by hurricanes and other natural disasters
and who have hardly anything to give are sending help, because their
hearts have been broken and their consciences moved by the appalling
abuses they have seen.
� Our objectives in Kosovo are clear and consistent with both the
moral imperative of reversing ethnic cleansing and killing, and our
overwhelming national interest in a peaceful, undivided Europe which
will ensure we will not have to send large numbers of young
Americans to die there in the next century in a war. The objectives
an international force, with NATO at its core, will deploy to
protect all the people, including the Serb minority, in Kosovo. And
afterward, to avoid future Bosnias and future Kosovos, we will learn
the lesson of the Marshall plan and what we did for Eastern Europe
after the Berlin Wall fell, by working with our European Allies to
build democracy and prosperity and cooperation in southeastern
Europe so that there will be stronger forces pulling people together
than those that are driving them apart.
� I know that many Americans believe that this is not our fight. But
remember why many of the people are laying in these graves out
here-because of what happened in Europe and because of what was
allowed to go on too long before people intervened. What we are
doing today will save lives, including American lives, in the
future. And it will give our children a better, safer world to live
� In this military campaign the United States has borne a large share
of the burden, as we must, because we have a greater capacity to
bear that burden. But all Americans should know that we have been
peacekeeping force goes in there, the overwhelming majority of
people will be European, and that when the reconstruction begins,
the overwhelming amount of investment will be European. This is
something we have done together.
� And I ask you, in the days and nights ahead, to remember our brave
pilots and crews flying over Serbia, to keep their families in our
thoughts. I visited with them recently. I know that they risk their
lives every day, and they even avoid firing back sometimes at people
who fire at them because they fire from heavily populated areas, and
they want to avoid killing innocent civilians.
� I ask you to support all possible efforts to relieve the suffering
of the people of Kosovo. Even those who escape will be struggling
with what happened to them for a long, long time. And this
afternoon, I ask all Americans to join with those who have urged us
to engage in a moment of remembrance at 3 o'clock eastern daylight
time, in honor of those who have given their lives for our country.
� I also ask all Americans to honor, along with those who have given
our veterans and their families, the present members of armed
services and their families, wherever and however they serve.
� How fitting it is that we are standing against ethnic cleansing
with our wonderful, myriad, rainbow, multiethnic military in our
increasingly diverse society that involves both the strength of our
differences and the even more powerful pull of our shared American
values. Our military inspires the world with their respect for one
another and their ability to work together. And you pass every test
with the same flying colors, red, white, and blue.
� Those who lie in this sacred place and in all those other places
the world over, many of whom will never even be known, they would be
very proud of today's men and women in uniform. And in the bright
new century ahead, those who live free with pride in and without
fear of their heritage or their faith will be very grateful to
today's men and women in uniform.
� I thank you all. God bless you, and God bless America.