President Ronald Reagan
Fortieth President (1981-1989)
Life: 1911 to 2004
Remarks at Veterans Day Ceremony
November 11, 1988
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Well, thank you, Jack Wheeler, thank you very
much. I shall treasure that gift. And to all of you, thanks, and
Before I begin, let me take a moment to congratulate the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial Fund and the other distinguished guests
without whom the construction and operation of this memorial
would not have been possible. Let me also say that America is
grateful to the hundreds of Vietnam veterans who, when I asked
them to join my administration, did so, and have and are serving
our nation so proudly. For your devotion to America, I salute
We're gathered today, just as we have gathered before, to
remember those who served, those who fought, those still
missing, and those who gave their last full measure of devotion
for our country. We're gathered at a monument on which the names
of our fallen friends and loved ones are engraved, and with
crosses instead of diamonds beside them, the names of those
whose fate we do not yet know. One of those who fell wrote,
shortly before his death, these words: ``Take what they have
left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it
with your own. And take one moment to embrace those gentle
heroes you left behind.''
Well, today, Veterans Day, as we do every year, we take that
moment to embrace the gentle heroes of Vietnam and of all our
wars. We remember those who were called upon to give all a
person can give, and we remember those who were prepared to make
that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty,
though it never was. Most of all, we remember the devotion and
gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they
became champions of a noble cause.
I'm not speaking provocatively here. Unlike the other wars of
this century, of course, there were deep divisions about the
wisdom and rightness of the Vietnam war. Both sides spoke with
honesty and fervor. And what more can we ask in our democracy?
And yet after more than a decade of desperate boat people, after
the killing fields of Cambodia, after all that has happened in
that unhappy part of the world, who can doubt that the cause for
which our men fought was just? It was, after all, however
imperfectly pursued, the cause of freedom; and they showed
uncommon courage in its service. Perhaps at this late date we
can all agree that we've learned one lesson: that young
Americans must never again be sent to fight and die unless we
are prepared to let them win.
But beyond that, we remember today that all our gentle heroes of
Vietnam have given us a lesson in something more: a lesson in
living love. Yes, for all of them, those who came back and those
who did not, their love for their families lives. Their love for
their buddies on the battlefields and friends back home lives.
Their love of their country lives.
This memorial has become a monument to that living love. The
thousands who come to see the names testify to a love that
endures. The messages and mementos they leave speak with a
whispering voice that passes gently through the surrounding
trees and out across the breast of our peaceful nation. A
childhood teddy bear, a photograph of the son or daughter born
too late to know his or her father, a battle ribbon, a note --
there are so many of these, and all are testimony to our living
love for them. And our nation itself is testimony to the love
our veterans have had for it and for us. Our liberties, our
values, all for which America stands is safe today because brave
men and women have been ready to face the fire at freedom's
front. And we thank God for them.
Yes, gentle heroes and living love and our memories of a time
when we faced great divisions here at home. And yet if this
place recalls all this, both sweet and sad, it also reminds us
of a great and profound truth about our nation: that from all
our divisions we have always eventually emerged strengthened.
Perhaps we are finding that new strength today, and if so, much
of it comes from the forgiveness and healing love that our
Vietnam veterans have shown.
For too long a time, they stood in a chill wind, as if on a
winter night's watch. And in that night, their deeds spoke to
us, but we knew them not. And their voices called to us, but we
heard them not. Yet in this land that God has blessed, the dawn
always at last follows the dark, and now morning has come. The
night is over. We see these men and know them once again -- and
know how much we owe them, how much they have given us, and how
much we can never fully repay. And not just as individuals but
as a nation, we say we love you.
These days, we show our love in many ways -- some of it through
the Government. We now fly the POW - MIA flag at this memorial
on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and POW - MIA Recognition Day.
This is a small gesture, but a significant one. America also
keeps a vigil for those who have not yet returned. We have
negotiated with the Vietnamese to bring our nation's sons home,
and for the first time, too, have joint teams investigating
remote areas of Vietnam that might shed light on the fate of
those we list as missing. In Laos, we have also begun a new
round of surveys and excavations of crash sites. And we have
told Hanoi that it must prove to the American people through its
cooperation whether men are still being held against their will
in Indochina. Otherwise we will assume some are, and we will do
everything we can to find them.
Here at home, a new Department of Veterans Affairs and extended
veterans benefits are merely outward and visible signs of an
inward and invisible grace that has come to our land. Vietnam
service is once more universally recognized as a badge of pride.
Four years ago, I noted that this healing had begun and that I
hoped that before my days as Commander in Chief were over it
would be completed. Well, now as I approach the end of my
service and I see Vietnam veterans take their rightful place
among America's heroes, it appears to me that we have healed.
And what can I say to our Vietnam veterans but: Welcome home.
Now before I go, as have so many others, Nancy and I wanted to
leave a note at the wall. And if I may read it to you before
doing so, we will put this note here before we leave:
``Our young friends -- yes, young friends, for in our hearts you
will always be young, full of the love that is youth, love of
life, love of joy, love of country -- you fought for your
country and for its safety and for the freedom of others with
strength and courage. We love you for it. We honor you. And we
have faith that, as He does all His sacred children, the Lord
will bless you and keep you, the Lord will make His face to
shine upon you and give you peace, now and forever more.''
Thank you all, and God bless you.