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Thank you all very much, Secretary Cheney and General Powell, and all the members of the Joint Chiefs, service secretaries, men and women of the Armed Forces. We are here today to add another campaign streamer to the rollcall of glory, the roster of great American campaigns: Yorktown, Gettysburg, Normandy, and now, Panama. Let us never forget that our Armed Forces have always fought for the children of America, for they are America's future. Panama was no different. The children of Panama deserve a future of freedom and democracy. And the people of that nation, Panama, needed us to stand with them to defend that struggle for democracy and for the opportunity that Americans have enjoyed for over 200 years.
The moment of decision came from me when the lives of America's servicemen stationed in Panama and the lives of American citizens there were threatened. That's when a silent phrase passed the lips, I think, of every American: Enough is enough. Our Armed Forces united in an operation appropriately labeled Just Cause, and 27,000 of America's finest sprang into action. They descended in C - 130's, choppers, parachutes. They came in the cover of darkness, and they came in frontal assault with the sun at their backs. All braved death. All fought with distinction. So, it is especially fitting that the fabric of this streamer is woven with the colors of all the services.
Just last week, General Powell and General Thurman brought a few of these service men and women over to the White House. I heard tales of heroism, all of them told with reluctance, all of them told plainly and as matters of fact. And it was a matter of duty, they told me. I met an Army medic who, though wounded, pulled one serviceman after another from the line of fire before collapsing. This medic now wears the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. I met a corporal whose proudest achievement is not that he stormed the PDF [Panamanian Defense Forces] barracks, but that his unit took the barracks while protecting the lives of a frightened family. Then I met a sergeant, a jump master, whose unit withstood withering fire and suffered severe casualties. But the sergeant told me that he and his men drew courage and conviction from the wild enthusiasm of the Panamanian people and from support that they were getting from back here, back here at home in the United States.
So, it's out of recognition of their bravery that we affix these streamers. But the greatest tribute goes to the soldiers, the sailors, the marines who fell. This streamer is, most of all, for them. It will adorn the service flags standing just a few feet from the Oval Office next to the American flag -- a flag already lined with the crimson color of sacrifice. It is in honor of every American who died in the defense of liberty that we honor our flag. That is why I am determined that the American flag will be consecrated, not desecrated.
Panama was another chapter in a great epic, an act of free men and women in the Revolution of '89 -- a revolution that also swept the East and that is now sweeping the globe. Because of Panamanians whose yearning for freedom is so strong that they will brave beatings to go to the polls, because of young Americans whose commitment to freedom is so strong that they will brave death to fight for it -- it is because of them that the day of the dictator truly is over. And the revolution continues. The people have spoken in Nicaragua. When they speak in Cuba and Haiti, our Western Hemisphere will be entirely within the compass of freedom. And when that day comes, it will be the ultimate tribute to those who have protected our freedom so well for so long.
It is a great privilege, indeed an honor, for me to be here today to salute our Secretary, Dick Cheney; our Chairman, Colin Powell; the other members of the Chiefs; General Thurman; General Stiner; and the men and women who fought so bravely in Panama. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Note: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. in the Ceremonial Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command; and Lt. Gen. Carl Stiner, commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps.