Thank you Steve Fisher for that warm introduction, and thank you for everything that you and your family, and your late, great uncle [Zachary Fisher, Founder and Chairman of the Intrepid Museum.] have done to create this remarkable museum. Mayor [of New York Rudy] Giuliani; [President of the Intrepid Foundation Lieutenant] General [Marty] Steele, Mr. Billy White, distinguished guests; honored veterans; soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen of the United States Armed Forces:
On behalf of President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, it is an honor to be with you on this Memorial Day. I would like to especially thank the Intrepid Foundation, and the representatives here for all that they have done to make this a world-class event and for all they’ve done to make the Intrepid Museum a living inspiration for generations to come.
A special thanks also to the Disabled American Veterans, who are here today in force, and whose generous funding of the new elevator makes it possible for all Americans to reach this magnificent flight deck. How appropriate that they should have made this gift [Applause.] It is a reminder that our disabled veterans served us, not only in wartime, but continue to serve us in peace.
What better place for a Memorial Day celebration than the flight deck of the Intrepid, a living memorial to the sailors and Marines who served on her. As you heard, Intrepid saw combat during World War II and the Vietnam War. This proud ship lived up to her name. It was torpedoed, it was hit by a kamikaze, and a Japanese bomber blew up almost on its flight deck. But none of that stopped this vessel or the 50,000 Americans who served on it—they were as intrepid as their ship was tough. In a few minutes, when the Coast Guard bugler plays Taps, we know that it will be, above all, for the 272 or more heroes who gave their last full measure of devotion serving on this ship.
We stand today on a great warship and a great memorial, a memorial to remind us never to forget the price of this ship’s greatness or the sacrifice of all our veterans. Nearly one hundred and forty years ago, Americans gathered at another memorial—the National Cemetery at Gettysburg—to honor their dead. Just as we stand on this once-battered warship, President Abraham Lincoln stood at the site of the great battle at Gettysburg, and reminded his countrymen that the world would never forget what "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled" on that battlefield had done. We cannot forget what the heroes of Gettysburg, what the heroes of the Intrepid, what all of our veterans, living and dead, who went in harm’s way and risked everything, have done for us, have done for their comrades, have done for our country.
Daniel Webster once said that "God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it." Honored veterans, we owe our liberty today to your sacrifice in years past. Your country will not forget, we must not forget, what you and our fallen comrades have done for us. That is why, this morning, President Bush announced the formation of a federal taskforce to improve health care for America’s veterans [Applause.] That is why President Bush this morning signed into law the long-delayed authorization for a World War II memorial. [Applause.] That memorial will be placed on the Mall in the nation’s capital in a rightful place of honor between the memorials to our two greatest wartime leaders, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln [Applause.].
The historian Stephen Ambrose tells us that " a memorial’s message is not just a remembrance of past sacrifice. It is a reminder to future generations that the torch of freedom is now theirs to carry, that the patriotism, the unity, and the responsibility of the war’s generations cannot be relegated to stone and mortar."
It is a reminder, as President Lincoln said on that day at Gettysburg, to us, the living, to give increased devotion to that cause for which those honored dead "gave the last full measure of devotion."
The example of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" has not perished, as Lincoln feared then it might. To the contrary, it has flourished. And today, honored veterans, we all enjoy the benefits of your service, and your example lives on all across America, especially in our magnificent Armed Forces. Your deeds—from Pearl Harbor to the Pusan Perimeter, from Bataan to Bastogne, from Korea to Kuwait—are not only remembered, they set the standard for today’s Armed Forces.
It is fitting that today the aircraft carrier Kennedy, along with eight other Navy ships and four Coast Guard ships, are berthed nearby. Those sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsmen will take their inspiration from Intrepid and from meeting veterans here today. Today, our men and women in uniform, just like the veterans before them, still go in harm’s way.
As we pause to remember our war dead today, let us also remember the nearly 50 young men and women in uniform, active and reserve, who have died in the line of duty just since New Year’s Day 2001. All Americans share the grief that their families bear on this Memorial Day. These brave men and women exemplified honor, courage, and commitment to their nation. They served in the highest traditions, the traditions which our veterans created—traditions set in stone by courage and sacrifice.
So, on behalf of a grateful nation, we salute those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We salute our disabled American veterans, not just for their sacrifice in war, but for their continuing contribution to our nation in peace. And we salute all of our honored veterans for their years of distinguished service, for reminding us, every day, what we must do to keep our country free. God bless you all, and God bless America.