Thank you all very much. Please be seated. You know, when Americans get together to celebrate country, we sure do it right. We sure do it in style. What a magnificent performance here tonight.
A lot of marvelous country songs -- one I like is just a little story of an American family. And I know what it feels like for me and Barbara here tonight. The music and the words and all of these emotions remind us of what we truly are, each and every one, part of the proud and great American family.
To Andy Andrews I would only say, now I know exactly how I will treat with those 14 grandchildren of mine. [Laughter]
But tonight America's family is gathered here in America's theatre. And we all want to thank the people, all the people, who made this gala possible. Of course, Peatsy Hollings and Ann Simpson here, Mary Jane Wick, Frankie Hewitt. Her vision brought about this theatre's resurrection, and the others are saluting this theatre's reality every year.
I want to congratulate Bill McSweeney for his well-deserved honor. And I want to thank Lod Cook of ARCO also, and salute some of the country's special friends who are with us tonight. We have the Vice President and Mrs. Quayle here tonight. We have many members of our Cabinet. Perhaps it would not be inappropriate at this patriotic moment to single out Secretary Cheney and, of course, General Powell. We might ask them to stand. [Applause] We have many distinguished leaders in the United States Congress.
You know, for over 100 years after Lincoln's assassination this theatre was closed, a dark reminder of an American tragedy. But tonight shows how this place can come back to life as a living symbol of the American spirit. And I can't think of a better theme than ``A Celebration of Country'' because it means not just country music but also our country, the United States of America.
The incredible feeling here in this theatre tonight shows really what I love best about country music: It hits all the right chords, like caring for your family, having faith in God -- Ricky Skaggs' ``Somebody's Praying'' said it very well indeed, that part of it -- songs about people who care for each other with the biggest hearts on Earth.
And country songs are about real people. Randy Travis, I must say I love that new song about the Points of Light. And -- where did he go? And I want to thank Don Schlitz and Tom Schuyler for doing that. Senator Hollings told me this song has real merit, it has a real beat. [Laughter] But certainly the message does. And I think Don and Tom know exactly how to put our feelings into words.
I think that at this moment in our history, our family -- American family, if you will -- is closer than it's ever been. We know who made this exhilarating moment possible. I'm talking about the men and women that serve in the Armed Forces of the United States, as Morgan Freeman said, ``thousands of miles from here.'' What a wonderful job they've done for all of us.
It is very, very exciting. And as they come home, I expect every family is like Barbara's and mine with the tears coming down our faces today and almost every day since they started back. But as they come home, we're going to take all the pride and the excitement that this country feels and give them the biggest welcome-home party that this country has ever seen.
And so, thank all of you here tonight, each and every one of you, for reminding us that we can dream and achieve together. A good night and thanks to all of you. And once again, Ricky, someone was praying, someone was praying.
Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 9:49 p.m. from the stage of the theatre. In his remarks, he referred to comedian Andy Andrews, who performed at the gala; Rita ``Peatsy'' Hollings, wife of Senator Ernest Hollings, and Ann Simpson, wife of Senator Alan Simpson, general chairmen of ``A Festival at Ford's''; Mary Jane Wick, gala chairman; Frankie Hewitt and Bill McSweeney, Ford's Theatre executive producer and chairman of the board; Lodwrick M. Cook, chairman and chief executive officer of ARCO; Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn; Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; country music performers Ricky Skaggs and Randy Travis; songwriters Don Schlitz and Tom Schuyler; and actor Morgan Freeman, who delivered a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.